GMO beef with the heart benefits of fish, why not?
Sometimes you just want beef, but beef is high in omega-6 fatty acids and low in the omega-3 type. Conversely, different types of fish are high in omega-3, but we all know they don’t compare to that tasty burger flavor. So what’s a beef lover to do, well if you’re in China you might have some options! Chinese scientists have reared beef rich in the beneficial fatty acids associated with fish oils.
The team in Yangling (Shaanxi), successfully introduced a gene into fetal cells from Luxi Yellow cattle, a Chinese breed with a high beef yield. The fat1 gene, isolated from a nematode worm, codes for desaturase enzymes that are involved in the conversion of n-6 to n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids.
A diet rich in long chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, also known as omega-3 oils, can help protect against cardiovascular diseases, obesity and neurodegenerative diseases. However, levels of these fatty acids in the human diet have decreased over the years and the levels of shorter chain n-6 fatty acids have increased. Introducing the fat1 gene to cattle increased the levels of beneficial oils by over five times.
“We have provided the first evidence that it is possible to create a new breed of cattle with higher nutritional value in terms of their fatty acid composition,” says corresponding author Linsen Zan from the College of Animal Science and Technology.
Other research groups are experimenting with increasing levels of omega-3 oils in farmed fish by creating fishmeal rich in a new plant source. A similar strategy could be used for cattle – producing feedstock rich in omega-3s – but the new study shows that elevated levels can be directly produced in beef. Similar genes have previously been introduced to pigs, dairy cattle and sheep by international research groups.
Of 14 calves that successfully received the fat1 gene, 11 died at less than four months old, mainly from inflammation and from an infection common to cattle, haemorrhagic septicaemia. Further research is needed to determine the causes. Abnormalities may result from the incomplete reprogramming of cells or from some genes being turned on and off during the generation of embryos.
“There is much to learn about the best scientific techniques and the best husbandry required to make beef a rich animal source of omega-3 oils for human nutrition, but we have taken the first step,” says lead author Gong Cheng.
The researchers believe that the results of their study could help ensure in the future that the beef that people eat is better for them.
Before we get comments on GMO this and GMO that, let’s make a few things clear. This is a long way off before this could become something seen in mainstream food sources. 11 out of the 14 calves died, which probably means that the FAT-1 gene is being inserted in other areas of the genome, this happens because — despite our best efforts — gene sequences can repeat themselves. This means that if you create a way to add a particular gene after a particular gene sequence, chances are that it will find more than one place in the genome that has that same sequence. This also means that potentially important bits of DNA are not making the (literal) cut when the gene is being added.
This will not change anything besides our diet, people are afraid of GM technologies because they do not understand how they work. You do not have horizontal gene transfer* from your diet, it hasn’t happened from “natural” food (whatever that word means to you), so it cannot happen with GM food. There would also be zero chance of this gene making it out into the wild (not that it would matter) because we are talking about livestock, so please remain calm.
It isn’t magic, there is a precision to the work being done out of necessity. Unlike another form of “GM food” that you currently eat, will continue eating, will never see it labeled (even when the labeling laws were making their rounds). And these foods are considered “organic” so you are eating them like it or not. No, that isn’t a conspiracy, it’s science, and it’s called mutagenesis. Don’t believe it? Google…
*Horizontal gene transfer is the transference from one organism to another without an intermediary (IE – making a baby). For example, this is how virus’ work and it is also the process we hijack to genetically modify things.
Cheng, G., Fu, C., Wang, H., Adoligbe, C., Wei, S., Li, S., Jiang, B., Wang, H., & Zan, L. (2015). Production of transgenic beef cattle rich in n-3 PUFAs by somatic cell nuclear transfer Biotechnology Letters DOI: 10.1007/s10529-015-1827-z