A shot in the arm
In his 2016 book called The Gene, Siddhartha Mukherjee provides a history of mankind’s understanding of genetics from five thousand years ago to today, and some thought of the future. I have recommended to many that this book should be required reading because the field of genetics today is at a tipping point, about to take us into unknown territory. The opportunities and challenges we will face are far too great to be addressed without understanding the science.
Every living thing is driven by its genetic makeup, the DNA found in every cell of the body. The project to catalogue the complete human genome was started in 1990 and completed in 2003, and the ability to quickly and accurately determine the DNA of living things has advanced with remarkable speed since then.
What does this have to our current COVID-19 pandemic? Everything! As evidence that we are now past the tipping point of genetics, we need look no further than COVID and the utterly incredible advances in vaccine development.
Traditional vaccines use either killed or modified agents. Using that technology, the FASTEST vaccine created in human history was for mumps and that took four years. Having the ability to read the genetic code for the virus that causes COVID allowed a new approach: using RNA that targets the “spike” on the virus. The world went from sequencing the virus’ complete genome in January to the first person receiving an approved vaccine with high efficacy in December - an unparalleled feat of science.
What does this have to do with livestock production? Everything! New knowledge and technologies are available to meet the challenges of agriculture as well as human medicine. In fact, advances in human medicine, like vaccine technology, are sure to filter down to the livestock health industry.
Those new technologies come with their own challenge though. The livestock sector must be better at clearly identifying their challenges/opportunities; investing in the research to find answers; and mounting effective implementation. That shot in the arm we can all expect in the coming months has a fantastic backstory, and lesson for the livestock industry.