When discussing genetically modified animals, it’s important to understand what it actually is. A genetically modified animal is a being that’s had its genetic material altered in some way. Adjusting the genetic material of an animal is usually done by adding, removing or simply changing DNA sequences in a way that would not occur naturally.
How Are Animals Genetically Modified?
Living creatures are known to have naturally imposed barriers to protect them from the introduction of DNA from another species. This makes genetic engineering more difficult, so genetic engineers are required to force the introduction of DNA from another species. One method which is sometimes used by genetic engineers is using a virus to infect the animal with the new DNA. It’s currently challenging to be precise with genetic engineering, and any modification to the genes of an animal can have unpredictable consequences, in the long run, meaning more research is required.
Why Genetically Modify an Animal?
The reason for genetically modifying animals is typically to change the characteristics of that animal or to introduce something new which would be beneficial. You will often hear about animals being genetically modified to speed up growth, often for the meat industry. Other reasons for modification include building greater resistance to diseases or even using genetic modification to make an animal release less toxic substances, as was seen with the Enviropig, which was genetically engineered to release between 30 and 60 per cent less phosphorus.
What are Genetically Modified Animals Used For?
Primarily, a genetically modified animal will be used for research purposes, and they’re rarely seen outside of the laboratory setting. Few genetically modified animals have been approved for human consumption worldwide. The AquaAdvantage salmon has recently been approved for the market in the United States of America, but not without much controversy. The AquaAdvantage salmon has been engineered to grow at twice the pace, with less food, than a wild salmon, meaning they can be brought to market much quicker and at less cost.
There have been instances of mosquitoes being genetically engineered to help control their disease-carrying counterparts in an attempt at curbing malaria. There are other, more commercial, purposes for genetically modifying an animal, such as making a fish fluorescent to be kept as a pet.
Overall, a genetically modified animal is a creature which has had its DNA engineered, allowing that animal to inherit a positive characteristic of another species. Generally, they’re used for research purposes, such as drug testing, but more commercial opportunities are being presented for genetically modified animals. While it is currently unlikely that you’ll be eating one anytime soon, with many countries banning them as a food source completely, the research into their benefit is continuing, and attitudes may change.