Whatever the worries over aspects of selective breeding for desirable traits in farmyard animals, according to Jim Wilton, director of the centre for the genetic improvement of livestock at the University of Guelph, it's a process so successful that there is little likelihood of GE ever being likely to match it.
According to Wilton, "the transfer of a suite of genes" via traditional breeding is likely to prove superior to single transgene transfers despite the claims of precision made for this supposedly "pinpoint" approach (which, of course, in reality involves random insertion!)
"When you move a single gene, you don't know what will happen; selective breeding allows you to choose in a more all-round sense what you want."
Best in breed
Remarkable progress has been made in the production of food bigger chickens, more eggs, more milk -- and biotechnology has nothing to do with it. It's all due to techniques people have been using since the 18th century. STEPHEN STRAUSS reports Saturday, January 26, 2002 [EXCERPT]
...perhaps what is most striking about this "old" revolution in agricultural genetics is how it may be casting a shadow on the new revolution that is supposed to replace it. It is not clear that biotechnology, as currently constituted, will be able to duplicate the virtues of what Jim Wilton, director of the centre for the genetic improvement of livestock at the University of Guelph, calls the "whole animal" approach to genetic manipulation.
He argues that the gross gains in all areas of animal husbandry have been achieved without any drastic indication that an improvement in one area has to be accompanied by a loss in another.
"We still have very functional cattle, with good reproductive function and good health status. They are what you might call completely normal animals."
This is because scientists using conventional breeding select not for a single genetic trait -- the state of art of today's biotechnology-based gene transfers -- but rather look at a bundle of desirable characteristics operating in concert within the animal. Thus, scientists select animals that maximize one trait -- milk production, for example -- without drastically upsetting others -- for example, general health, calving numbers.
The question is whether animal biotechnology will ever be able to mimic this. Over the past year, Wilton has begun to argue that classical selective breeding, which operates through the transfer of a suite of genes, might prove to be a superior way of making better farm animals than the supposedly more revolutionary pinpoint approach. "When you move a single gene, you don't know what will happen; selective breeding allows you to choose in a more all-round sense what you want."
With this as a background, there is a belief that the genetic revolution of the future will simply be an extension of the genetic revolution of the past. "The reality is that things which have been improved in livestock have not been due to biotechnology and are unlikely to be due to biotechnology into the foreseeable future," Chesnais says [Jacques Chesnais is general manager of the Canadian Centre for Swine Improvement]