The questionnaire is focused on people’s perceptions of gene editing in livestock, and whether they would eat meat from an animal that has had its DNA altered.
Responses will be used to inform research at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, which has already used the technology to produce pigs that are resistant to a devastating disease.
Gene editing involves altering some of the individual letters that make up an organism’s genetic code at precise points.
The technology can be used to introduce characteristics into plants and animals, such as resistance to a specific disease or improved adaptation to different environments.
The changes introduced are the same as those that could occur spontaneously in nature. Most natural changes either have no impact or are harmful to the animal. With gene editing, precise changes that are likely to be beneficial can be introduced.
The approach does not involve transferring genes from one species to another and is different from transgenic techniques, which often do.
Researchers at The Roslin Institute have used gene editing to produce pigs that are resistant to a disease called Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome – or PRRS – which causes pig producers significant losses worldwide.
It is no longer a question of whether we can use gene editing technology to improve livestock health, but rather whether we should use it. We need to better understand public opinion to inform how these technologies are used and also how they should be regulated.
Professor Bruce Whitelaw, The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh
Teams at Roslin are working with experts at the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health in Edinburgh and in Africa to explore how the technology could be used to benefit production animals in tropical climates.
The goal is to improve the health and welfare of farmed animals around the world, and to improve the security of food supplies in low and middle-income countries.
Professor Appolinaire Djikeng, Director of the Centre for Tropical Livestock Genetics and Health said that livestock farming is a reliable source of food for people living in extreme poverty and creates economic opportunities for farmers in low and middle-income countries.
He added that with equitable partnerships and wider stakeholder engagement, gene editing could provide opportunities to produce healthier and more resilient animals for vulnerable farmers.
It could help address some of the challenges associated with rearing animals in tropical climates.
With bioscience transforming our ability to understand these challenges we are better equipped to develop new and innovative ways to address them and it is important that the public are engaged in the dialogue.
Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Experts from the University are speaking about their work at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting in Washington DC.
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