by Kevin Waetke
An Elkhart, Illinois, pork producer joined science and ethics experts at CRISPRcon this summer to explore the role of gene editing. The first-of-its-kind conference is named for the genome editing technique that is known as Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR).
Pork and grain producer Thomas Titus was part of a panel that discussed where CRISPR technology could take society by 2050. He was one of two farmers who joined scientific experts, physicians, patients, environmentalists, consumers and community leaders in exploring potential applications for gene editing, including human and animal health, agriculture and conservation.
“Gene editing will have a great impact on the future of farming and especially on livestock production,” Titus said. “Although in very early stages of development and acceptance, gene editing could ultimately be used to make pigs resistant to diseases, thereby improving food safety, animal welfare and the environmental impact.”
Dave Pyburn, senior vice president of science and technology for the Pork Checkoff, noted that University of Missouri researchers are using gene editing to develop the first PRRS-resistant pigs.
“CRISPR technology allows precise changes to be made to the DNA of living cells, which holds the potential to transform agriculture and enable massive leaps forward in environmental and life science,” Pyburn said.
Through keynote speakers, panels and interactive discussions, the two-day CRISPRcon offered a forum for those with a stake in gene editing to share ideas, ask and answer questions and explore the path forward.
The Pork Checkoff and National Pork Producers Council supported Titus’ participation. Other panelists included representatives from the Center for Genetics and Society, the Institute for the Future, the PICO National Network and The Breakthrough Institute.
“Consumers are asking where their food comes from and how it is raised,” Titus said. “That’s why I welcome every chance to talk about today’s pork production. I appreciated the opportunity to share how I raise pigs with key influencers in food production at CRISPRcon.”
Other topics addressed during the conference included societal perceptions and acceptance of CRISPR application in surgery, human health and food production and conservation.