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Dual Challenges

As researchers work on developing gene-edited livestock, there are both regulatory and societal challenges for them to overcome, the Washington Post reports.

For instance, researchers at the University of California, Davis, led by Alison Van Eenennaam are working on developing all-male cattle, which gain weight more efficiently than female cattle. They have developed dairy cows without horns by swapping the Holstein horn gene for the Angus one, as Angus cattle naturally lack horns, so the cows avoid a de-horning procedure.

But as the Post adds, researchers like Van Eenennaam face an uncertain regulatory environment. With the advent of CRISPR, the Post says researchers were hopeful that that tool would be viewed differently by regulators, but a 2017 draft guidance from the US Food and Drug Administration indicates that it would consider edited DNA within animals to be a veterinary drug, just as it has for other types of genetic modifications.

At the same time, Jennifer Kuzma from North Carolina State University tells the Post that the public is warier of edited animals than it is of edited plants. "We're at this inflection point in society, where gene editing is really taking off, and now is the time we could have a more sustained public conversation about how we want it used in our world and how we don't want it to be used," she adds.