University of California, Davis, researchers have used gene editing to develop dairy cows that lack horns, Science Friday reports. Holsteins and Jerseys have their horns removed at a young age so they don't harm each other or farm workers. However, Angus cattle are naturally hornless, leading the Davis researchers to try swapping out the Holstein horn gene for the Angus one.
"I think that genetics is a really sustainable approach to dealing with some of the problems of agriculture," Davis' Alison Van Eenennaam tells Science Friday.
Van Eenennaam notes that breeding Angus and Holsteins cattle would also yield hornless calves, but they'd also be a mix of dairy and meat breeds, so they'd have to be further crossed back into the Holstein line, a process she estimates would take at least 20 years.
In their proof-of-concept work, Van Eenennaam and her team introduced the Angus mutation into Holsteins in a cell culture and grew those into two Holstein bulls that don't have horns.
Science Friday notes that it'd be years before such cows could be on the market and that there'd be societal and other issues to grapple with.
The University of Florida's Jeff Burkhardt says that from an animal welfare perspective — which says that it is people's moral responsibility to minimize animals' pain, even if they are raised as food — Van Eenennaam's research is laudable as it eliminates the pain of de-horning. However, he notes that as she and her colleagues used a biotech approach to do this, some people may object.