The previous discussion suggests that the order of priorities for research in biotechnology in animal nutrition that should be promoted by agencies, such as FAO, are as follows:—
Development of appropriate supplements that balance nutrition of ruminants fed poor quality forages, crop residues or agro-industrial byproducts. The research requirements include:—
development of appropriate supplements of mineral/non protein-nitrogen/other microbial factors
identification of protein resources naturally protected from rumen degradation
processing of protein resources to protect them from rumen degradation
Where protein is scarce in a developing country, the development of systems to produce protected protein resources become a priority. These include:—
proteins from crops, trees or by-products
aquatic plants algae and animals.
Manipulation of digestibility
by chemical treatment
by microbiological treatment
by improving fermentation in the rumen using:—
modification of the ecosystem
Manipulation of metabolism within the animal
by chemicals and hormonal implants
by production of transgenic animals.
The views of the author, are summed up by the following:—
Many review writers start their review as follows:—
“In the near future, improvements of domestic animals for the production of meat and fibre are poised to undergo a revolution by the utilisation of recent breakthroughs and advances in molecular genetics, embryo manipulation and gene transfer systems.”
The Reality is that:—
Most research projects have come up against barriers which require a return to basic research. The simplistic approach of expecting transformed organisms and animals to function in a production system have not come to fruition. There is now a recognition among biotechnologists that considerable basic research is needed to complement the technological breakthroughs (of for instance development of the ability to introduce foreign DNA into cells) before an application is forthcoming.
The promise of the technology is still there but the targeted time for application of soon after 2000 is now obviously too short.
Animal production in most developing countries could be increased many fold by finding ways and means of applying already established concepts. These include applying the newer concepts of supplementation of ruminants that have developed in the last 10 years that emphasises the use of local resources balanced with critical nutrients. The need is largely to research mechanisms and/or means for applying these concepts in various localities where animals are managed on poor quality forages.
Nutrition appears to represent the most severe constraint to production. It is recognised that disease is still of paramount importance but in reality could be largely controlled by present day technologies. A major point is that without improved nutrition it is unlikely that any modern biotechnology can be successfully applied to ruminants in developing countries.
Undoubtedly the promise of modern biotechnology is still there but the timeframe is so much longer than enthusiastic scientists have suggested in the past.
The question “How can the developing countries benefit from the advances that will arise as biotechnology research progresses?”, is difficult to answer. As this discussion is restricted to nutrition, perhaps the answer is that with the present commercialisation of biotechnology the main beneficiaries are likely to be the stock-holders of multi-national companies unless the application is uncontrolable, e.g. an introduced “rumen super bug” is readily transmitted from animal to animal and is robust and will survive.
There are niches for modern biotechnology in developing countries. There is a need for such countries to have people working in these areas in order to be able to recognise (if the information is not kept secret) particular benefits that might be of local interest.
As the concepts of balanced nutrition are extended and applied to more and more livestock in developing countries, the application of modern biotechnology will become more appropriate. How long before this happens? The author's view is that in the next 10 years, application of present knowledge will be slow, but as global warming becomes more evident and recognised by people generally, the stimulus and pressure to improve the efficiency of ruminant production will be stronger. Within 10 years nutrition of ruminants may then be vastly improved along the lines set out in this report and ruminant numbers will be reduced. Further the application of such technologies will improve the feed base for the remaining animals and there will be space for considering a biotechnology approach to further improve the efficiency of production.
The need for both applied and basic research is ongoing in these areas and must not be neglected for modern biotechnology which requires enormous funds to support basic research before it can be applied. The modern biotechnology should advance together one step at a time with good nutrition and disease research
In as many countries and regions as possible put major emphasis now, on local research to manipulate through feeding technology the microbial ecosystem of the rumen and the animals metabolism to make ruminants as efficient as possible on the feeds that are locally available. When the direct and indirect effects are taken into account this could result in the large improvements in productivity which could meet increasing food demand by humans and allow animal numbers to decrease.
The most important milestone will be the production of packaged supplements to complement the available feed resources at the site of dense livestock populations.
Modern biotechnology should be developed but only in a few selected research institutes and it should be funded from National resources. The areas of research should be carefully chosen to have a local emphasis that is not being researched elsewhere. These same scientific groups must have a watching brief on modern biotechnology as it develops.