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Recombinetics' Animal Gene Editing Could Transform the Beef Industry

October 3, 2018
Brazil may not be first in the world in beef production, but the South American country could soon be the first to raise Angus cattle in a warmer climate.

In a video for the Wall Street Journal, reporter Jason Bellini traveled to Brazil to speak with Tad Sonstegard, Chief Scientific Officer at biotech company Recombinetics, to explore how the company’s gene editing technology is on the verge of transforming the beef industry.

In the video, Bellini explains that Angus beef is becoming increasingly popular in Brazil. However, the Angus cattle do not do well in warmer climates – “they don’t get beefy.” As a result, almost all beef produced in the country comes from Zebu cattle. Strips, loins and other cuts of beef from this breed tend to be leaner and not as tender – hence the increasing demand for fattier, tender Angus beef.

Thanks to gene editing though, the Minnesota-based biotech company believes they’re on the verge of developing Angus cattle that can thrive in Brazil’s warmer climate.

“A few years back, he [Tad Sornstegard] discovered the gene for heat tolerance in the Senepol breed, which thrives in hotter climates,” Bellini narrates. “He believes it’s possible to give Angus the same heat resistant trait, known as ‘slick,’ using a process called gene editing.”

“Potential huge implications,” Bellini adds.

When Bellini visited Recombinetics’ Brazil operation in September, he met Genzel, the first calf to be gene edited for heat resistance. At only two months old, Genzel was already showing signs of being more tolerant of heat.

“There’s very little hair in her ears, so her hair is shorter than normal,” Sornstegard points to Bellini. “It allows them to cool better. They also should have more active sweat glands and there’s probably also metabolic differences on the inside that allow her to better adapt to heat.”

Genzel’s existence is a milestone for animal biotechnology. As the calf continues to grow, researchers will continue to monitor her to affirm her tolerance to heat. That said, the initial assessment shows the gene editing technique has worked.

The hope is that Genzel will continue to grow much like an Angus would in an ideal climate, leading to premium Angus beef. If that happens, this biotech innovation by Recombinetics could position Brazil as another viable source in addition to the U.S. for Angus beef and add billions of dollars in revenue to the industry. Moreover, Brazilians craving fattier, more tender Angus beef, would have access to the meat without having to import from the U.S.

To view the whole video on the Wall Street Journal’s website, click here.