Biotechnology in animal husbandry


Biotechnology has a number of applications in livestock production. It is being used to hasten animal growth, enhance reproductive capacity, improve animal health and develop new animal products.

Biotechnology can increase the digestibility of low-quality roughage, and genetically modify plants to improve their feed value, such as the amino acid balance. It can also provide hormones and other substances that enhance animal size, productivity and growth rates.

Synthetic hormone bovine somatotropin was among the first innovations available commercially. It can increase milk yield by as much as 10%-15% in lactating cows. Current development efforts are looking at a whole spectrum of genes that affect growth and production within the animal. Ways to genetically engineer cattle to increase their own natural hormone production are being considered, thus eliminating the need for synthetic bovine somatotropin.  

One important benefit from biotechnology is the diagnosis of livestock diseases, and genetically transmitted conditions which damage health and productivity. Biological techniques can also produce cheaper and more efficient drugs. In cases where a natural source material is prohibitively expensive, genetic engineering (in microbial or tissue culture systems) can be used to produce drugs of high value for humans or animals. Examples are insulin, human growth hormone and tissue plasminogen activator (used in treating heart disease). 

Catherine Darley
Journal of Biotechnology & Biomaterials
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