The News Today
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1.25.21
Rebuild Them

Scientists Tried to Gene Hack Cows to Survive Climate Change but the Cows Died

__Dan Robitzski__Filed Under: Earth & Energy
Michal Klajban/Victor Tangermann

Touch of Gray

To help the cattle industry survive the disastrous environmental impacts of climate change — caused in part by the industry itself — scientists are gene-hacking cows to be more resilient.

Heat stress is already a serious problem for dairy cows in New Zealand, New Scientist reports. So scientists have started to alter their genetic code to keep them cool, by turning their black coats gray or making their hair grow shorter — though their first experiment ended in disaster.

Downstream Effects

In New Zealand, cows suffer heat stress for almost 20 percent of the time they’re milked, according to New Scientist. That makes it harder for them to get pregnant and, as a result, drastically lowers milk yields.

Unfortunately, the cooling genetic traits like lighter, shorter hair are found in beef cows. That means traditional breeding would also have a deleterious effect on milk yields, hence the genetic tinkering.

Learning Curve

Unfortunately, the team, led by Goetz Laible at the biotech firm AgResearch, messed up: Both of their gray-haired calves died almost immediately because of issues with their cloning technique.

But they say they could make the same genetic alterations without necessarily needing to clone the cows, and Laible is still optimistic.

“On a global scale, even modest improvements in productivity from color-diluted cattle would translate into substantial environmental benefits,” he told New Scientist.

READ MORE: Cattle are being gene edited to help them survive climate change [New Scientist]

More on cows: “Cow FitBits” Won’t Make Cows Happier Because They’re Not Milk Robots