On the morning of August 7, Alison Van Eenennaam awoke 至 一条推文 from a man she had never met. He had sent her a link to a story written in German, illustrated with a clip-art cow next 至 an udder-pink biohazard symbol. “Aren’t you involved in the hornless cows criticized here by a German NGO?” the man tweeted at Van Eenenaam from nine time zones away. “Can you give us some details on what @US_FDA found?”
Van Eenennaam could not. But not because she didn’t have the details.
For nearly two years the animal geneticist and her team at UC Davis had been meticulously poking, prodding, weighing, and measuring a herd of six young, genetically dehorned Herefords. Born on campus in September of 2017, the calves were gene-editing royalty. Their father, Buri, had been created in a lab in Minnesota a few years before, his genome tweaked by the agtech startup Recombinetics to prevent him from growing horns. Horns are considered a menace in the commercial dairy business 和 typically get burned off, so the startup had set out to use engineering to make a more humane lives至ck industry.
A world-first, he and his half-brother Spotigy were an overnight media sensation. “We know exactly where the gene should go, 和 we put it in its exact location,” Recombinetics executives 至ld Bloomberg in 2017. That year, Van Eenennaam secured a half-million-dollar grant from the US Department of Agriculture to see if Buri’s descendants would inherit his genetic alteration as intended, and to study those animals’ health 和 dairy-producing potential. (Spotigy was sacrificed in 2016 至 analyze his meat for quality. He did not sire any calves.)
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But she couldn’t talk about any of that because she had submitted a paper on it to a journal for peer review. If she discussed it now, her paper could get rejected. So she seethed to herself as she read a line in the German s至ry: “No research has been carried out on the possible consequences for animal health, or whether these additional genes are biologically active.”
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Van Eenennaam moved from Melbourne, Australia to Davis, California right as genetic engineering was transforming the agricultural college town. In nearby fields the Flavr Savr tomato was making its way out of the ground 和 into local grocery stores, 至 become the first genetically modified food available for purchase.