[Thanks to Dr. Jeggo for this very clear and thought-provoking contribution.....Moderator]
The Animal Production and Health Sub-programme of the Joint FAO/IAEA Division has increasingly looked at ways to ensure that developing countries have an opportunity to utilise and gain value from the benefits that can arise through the use of biotechnologies for improving and optimising livestock production. During the past three years we have been supporting an FAO/IAEA Co-ordinated Research Programme (CRP) on the development of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for the diagnosis of rinderpest and contagious bovine pleuropneumonia (CBPP) and we are starting this year a new CRP on the potential for the use of PCR for the diagnosis of trypanosomosis. In our Medium Term Strategy we are looking to ways in which genetic markers can be used to increase livestock productivity and make maximum use of locally available genetic resources. As part of this we intend to hold an international FAO/IAEA Symposium on "Application of gene-based technologies for improving animal production and health in developing countries" in India in 2003.
In developing these current and proposed activities, we have constantly revisited how best to introduce and use biotechnology. I would highlight the following as current issues in this general area.
1. Biotechnology does offer considerable potential for improving livestock production but it is not clear how this can be best realised or maximised
2. There is an increasing gap between the ability of developing and developed countries to utilise biotechnology in this area. The problems and solutions to livestock production are not the same between these the "north" and the "south" or indeed between many farming systems. It is critical to bridge this growing north - south technology gap. [A point that was also made by Malumebet Worku, 29 June....Moderator]
3. Some biotechnologies offer significant advantageous to developing countries that do not hold for the developed world. These will not be realised without support for the introduction and use of these technologies in these regions.
4. Genetic conservation and the maximum use of genetic resources in developing countries is a massive problem but can be solved in part, through the use of specific biotechnologies. Support is clearly needed in this area.
5. Much has been developed and characterised in research institutes. Every effort should be made to "not re-invent the wheel" but to build on what is available. This is going to involve innovative partnerships particularly between the Government and private sector and between the potential financial rewards for marketing such research in the developed world as opposed to the often real but financially unrewarding application in the developing world.
6. One key advantage in the animal diagnostic sector is the specificity and sensitivity of PCR-based diagnostic systems. Improvements in control procedures, reductions in the cost of equipment (thermocyclers) and reagents (polymerase) are making this technology particularly attractive. The ability to now get primers made on demand is making this approach even more viable in the developing country situation. Without doubt though, the problem of assay control and contamination continue to limits the use of PCR technology in these situations.
7. In animal vaccine there is a long way to go. That is not to say that biotechnology does not offer solutions, it clearly does. Recombinant vaccines, DNA vaccines and genetically modified marker vaccines are obvious roads to go down but the GMO debate in Europe is a huge problem. Linked to this is the limited research funds now available for work on diseases that principally occur in the developing world - and thus the inputs needed to develop such vaccines. For many of the diseases the basic immunology has yet to be unravelled (CBPP, African Swine Fever, trypanosomosis) and to develop a molecular-based vaccine in the absence of this knowledge is difficult, if not futile.
But who will support this research and the capacity to do this in the developing world is limited. I am sure that if malaria occurred throughout Europe we would now have a vaccine against this disease! Many of the potential disease control approaches for developing countries are curtailed by an inability to separate a vaccinated from a naturally infected animal. Marker vaccines offer a "simple" way forward but their introduction is being slowed by the current debates on GMOs.
8. The potential to manipulate the genome of livestock in the way that is currently taking place in plants is limited. Most production constraints are multifactorial and there would be major genetic interdependencies that would prevent any real gains in this area. However the use of micro-satellite technology to identify specific production characteristics may offer ways to best utilise advantageous genetic traits in indigenous livestock and speed up selection of progeny. This biotechnology needs to be on offer in the countries and within the species of interest. Unless the developing countries have this technology on-tap to investigate their own livestock, nothing is likely to change. The introduction and support for the use of this technology therefore needs to be provided in the countries themselves. How best to do this, and which methodology to use is debatable.
A few thoughts that I hope will stimulate further discussion,
Dr. Martyn Jeggo
Animal Production and Health Section
Joint FAO/IAEA Division
of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture
Wagramer Strasse 5
P.O. Box 100
A-1400 Vienna, Austria
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