The Media and I: Avian Flu

In this wide-ranging radio conversation, Mark Hahn and I discuss the spectrum of genetic modification, including the use of CRISPR technology to enhance the resistance of bird flocks, such as chickens and turkeys, against diseases like Avian Influenza.

I began by dismissing the term "GMO" as a meaningless pseudo-category, emphasizing that genetic modification is a seamless continuum that has been practiced for centuries. Modern gene editing techniques like CRISPR merely offer increased precision and predictability. As an example, my dog, Cracker, has been genetically modified through selective breeding and DNA testing to eliminate a harmful genetic defect -- copper toxicosis -- that used to plague Bedlington Terriers.

Mark highlighted the public's sometimes-contentious reaction to genetic modification, and while acknowledging the buzz surrounding the term "GMO," the ultimate goal is most often to cultivate healthier plants or animals, a tradition spanning centuries.

We discuss the heritability of genetic modification in animals, using flu-resistant chickens as an example. I note the challenges of applying these modifications across various breeds but emphasize their potential in preventing widespread epidemics, and as a boon to poultry breeders.

Our conversation took an intriguing turn in discussing genetically modified pigs, specifically Gal-Safe pigs, designed to be non-allergenic to individuals allergic to red meat. Mark mentioned cultural and religious considerations related to pork consumption, but I doubt that molecular modifications will convince orthodox Jews and religious Muslims to permit pork consumption. 

We touched briefly on the potential applications of CRISPR technology in humans. While gene editing is currently employed for rare genetic diseases and specific cancers, it remains in the early stages. I an optimistic and enthusiastic about the potential benefits of CRISPR technology and gene therapy.

You can find the audio of our full conversation here.

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