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7.24B: Genetic Engineering in Animals

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    The purpose of genetic engineering in animals is to create animals with special characteristics.

    Learning Objectives
    • Justify genetic engineering in animals

    Key Points

    • Genetic engineering of animals involves manipulating or modifying the genetic code of selected animals to alter their characteristics and to introduce certain desired traits.
    • The genetic engineering in animals has increased significantly in recent years, and the use of this technology brings with it ethical issues, some of which relate to animal welfare.
    • Biomedical applications of genetically engineered animals are numerous, and include understanding of gene function, modeling of human disease to either understand disease mechanisms or to aid drug development, and xenotransplantation.

    Key Terms

    • ecosystem: The interconnectedness of plants, animals, and microbes with each other and their environment.
    • Patents: A form of intellectual property.

    Scientists are now capable of creating new species of animals by taking genetic material from one, or more, plants or animals, and genetically engineering them into the genes of another animal. This allows scientists to create animals that are completely foreign to the earth and specifically tailored to possess only the traits that humans desire in animals. This means that science can engineer farm animals to grow faster, have healthier meat and flesh, and be less able to feel the pain and suffering often associated with the conditions present in modern factory farms.

    Figure: Genetically manipulated mice: Laboratory mice are genetically manipulated by deleting a gene for use in biomedical research.

    Genetically engineered animals are also created to help medical researchers in their quest to find cures for genetic disease, like breast cancer. Finally, endangered animal species can be cloned, thus helping wildlife management in its goals of preserving wild populations of the earth’s biological diversity, and by ensuring that endangered animals’ genetic information will not be lost when the last of the species dies.

    This use of modern technology is not without its drawbacks or its critics. By genetically engineering farm and research animals, critics argue, we may be undoing what nature has worked to create over millions of years. Natural animals are specifically adapted to a given environment and when science manipulates the genes of a few species in the ecosystem, the entire balance of the ecosystem might fall completely apart and cause an unknown number of natural animal species to grow extinct.

    Others argue that animals should possess, at a bare minimum, the right to be free of genetic manipulation or a reduction in their natural abilities. Despite this debate, the law in both the United States and in Europe, tends to support genetic engineering research and development by allowing genetically engineered animals to be patented. Patents give scientists a monopoly over their genetically engineered animal species, something before unheard of in modern economic systems. Typically, animals could be owned, but never entire species.

    This page titled 7.24B: Genetic Engineering in Animals is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Boundless.

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