Biotechnology – University of Copenhagen

Biotechnology

Animal biotechnology: The Ethical Landscape

By Gjerris, M. (2012) 
In Brunk, C. & Hartley, S. (eds.): Designer Animals. Mapping the Issues in Animal Biotechnology. University of Toronto Press, pp. 47-70

Introduction

Why Are We Discussing Ethics All the Time?

In 1997, the Dorset ewe Dolly was presented to the world by a group of researchers led by Dr Ian Wilmut at the Roslin Institute in Edin- burgh. Normally sheep do not give rise to headlines in media around the world, but Dolly did. She was a clone, a close genetic copy of an adult animal. She was produced by taking a cell from the mammary gland of an adult sheep and fusing it with an egg cell from another sheep that had been emptied of the genetic material in the cell core. This produced a fertilized egg that was transferred to a surrogate mother, and after a normal pregnancy, Dolly was born. This was something widely believed until then to be biologically impossible in mammals.

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Animal biotechnology: The Scientific Landscape

By Gjerris, M. (2012)
In Brunk, C. & Hartley, S. (eds.): Designer Animals. Mapping the Issues in Animal Biotechnology. University of Toronto Press, pp. 23-46

Introduction

What Is Animal Biotechnology?

One of the first things to realize about animal biotechnology is that it is not possible to give a simple answer to the question ‘What is ani- mal biotechnology?’ The basic problem is that there is no agreement about where to draw the line in terms of what should be considered as biotechnology and what should be considered as more conventional uses of technology. Most people will readily agree that taking a gene from a human and inserting it into a goat embryo is an instance of animal biotechnology. But what about selective breeding? Or artificial insemination?

Behind these technical disagreements lies a value-laden discussion wherein, it is believed, the definition itself will help decide the ethical questions.

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Welfare assessment in transgenic pigs expressing green fluorescent protein (GFP)

R.C. Huber, L. Remuge, A. Carlisle, S. Lillico, P. Sandøe, D.B. Sørensen, C.B.A. Whitelaw & I.A.S. Olsson (2012) 
Transgenic Research. 
Springer.

Abstract

Since large animal transgenesis has been successfully attempted for the first time about 25 years ago, the technology has been applied in various lines of transgenic pigs. Nevertheless one of the concerns with the technology—animal welfare—has not been approached through systematic assessment and statements regarding the welfare of transgenic pigs have been based on anecdotal observations during early stages of transgenic programs. The main aim of the present study was therefore to perform an extensive welfare assessment comparing heterozygous transgenic animals expressing GFP with wildtype animals along various stages of post natal development. The protocol used covered reproductory performance and behaviour in GFP and wildtype sows and general health and development, social behaviour, exploratory behaviour and emotionality in GFP and wildtype littermates from birth until an age of roughly 4 months. The absence of significant differences between GFP and wildtype animals in the parameters observed suggests that the transgenic animals in question are unlikely to suffer from deleterious effects of transgene expression on their welfare and thus support existing anecdotal observations of pigs expressing GFP as healthy. Although the results are not surprising in the light of previous experience, they give a more solid fundament to the evaluation of GFP expression as being relatively non-invasive in pigs. The present study may furthermore serve as starting point for researchers aiming at a systematic characterization of welfare relevant effects in the line of transgenic pigs they are working with.

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'What's wrong with my monkey?' Ethical perspectives on germline transgenesis in marmosets  

By I. A. S. Olsson & P. Sandøe (2010)
Transgenic Research. Springer Verlag

Abstract

The birth of the first transgenic primate to have inherited a transgene from its parents opens the possibility to set up transgenic marmoset colonies, as these monkeys are small and relatively easy to keep and breed in research facilities. The prospect of transgenic marmoset models of human disease, readily available in the way that transgenic laboratory mice are currently, prompts excitement in the scientific community; but the idea of monkeys being bred to carry diseases is also contentious. We structure an ethical analysis of the transgenic marmoset case around three questions: whether it is acceptable to use animals as models of human disease; whether it is acceptable to genetically modify animals; and whether these animals being monkeys makes a difference.

The analysis considers the prospect of transgenic marmoset studies coming to replace transgenic mouse studies and lesion studies in marmosets in some areas of research. The mainstream, broadly utilitarian view of animal research suggests that such a transition will not give rise to greater ethical problems than those presently faced. It can be argued that using marmosets rather than mice will not result in more animal suffering, and that the benefits of research will improve with a move to a species more similar in phylogenetic terms to humans. The biological and social proximity of monkeys and humans may also benefit the animals by making it easier for scientists and caretakers to recognize signs of suffering and increasing the human motivation to limit it. The animal welfare and research impacts of the transition to marmoset use will depend very much on the extent to which researchers take these issues seriously and seek to minimize animal harm and optimize human benefit.   

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Animal biotechnology and animal welfare

By M. Gjerris, A. Olsson & P. Sandøe (2006)
Animal Welfare. Council of Europe Publishing

Introduction

During the past 30 years biotechnology has been used to develop a range of useful types of animal. These animals have made huge contributions to basic research and biomedicine and are beginning to enter the agricultural production system. This development raises a number of ethical questions. The central issue, as is so often the case, is about the boundaries of ethical acceptability.

Most people would readily agree that there is a difference between what humans can do and what they ought to do. Equally, most people would happily acknowledge that it is good to do the morally right thing. However, the harmony usually ends there, because although it is easy to agree that a good thing should be promoted, it is often hard to reach consensus on what that good thing is, how it can be promoted, and where to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not. As soon as we begin discussing these questions, whether in private or in public, we are engaging in ethical discussion – discussion in which we seek to establish a substantial understanding of the concepts of good and right that can guide our choices when we are faced with opportunities whose acceptability appears uncertain.

The issue of ethical acceptability has closely shadowed developments within biotechnology over the past 30 years, not least when it comes to animal biotechnology. A range of possibilities including reproductive technologies, genetic modification and cloning has prompted concern about the ethical limits of our use of animals. It is probably an understatement to say that discussion has so far led to no consensus in the public sphere, but it would also be an overstatement to say that the debate has been futile. What has emerged, among other things, is a clearer understanding of the basic ethical assumptions behind the different viewpoints, together with greater attention to our ethical duties to animals.

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Ethical decisions concerning animal biotechnology: What is the role of animal welfare science?

By I. A. S. Olsson & P. Sandøe (2004)
Animal Welfare. UFAW

Abstract

Scientists recently attracted considerable public attention when they presented a featherless chicken tailored for production in hot climates. Although this chicken was actually the result of traditional breeding, it is an example of what might be achieved if targeted gene manipulation techniques become widely applied in agriculture. Through interfering directly with an animal's genome, scientists hope to be able to create animals with exactly the desired characteristics, such as lean meat or temperature tolerance. Industry and geneticists may be enthusiastic about the possibility of producing pork with polyunsaturated fatty acids or high-yielding dairy cows to be kept in tropical climates, but the European public often reacts with alarm at these prospects. A consistent pattern of the surveys conducted among members of the European public is that, of all of the potential biotechnology applications, those involving animals are the ones that people find the least acceptable. People fear a development of techniques that may get out of control, and they also have ethical concerns about humans' right to 'play God' and about the welfare of the animals involved. All of these aspects seem to be relevant for an ethical discussion about animal biotechnology.

Animal welfare scientists can play an important role by providing information for an animal welfare risk assessment at an early stage of research projects that involve the genetic modification of animals, and also by helping to develop guidelines for the housing and husbandry of animals with special needs. On the other hand, ethical problems remain that lie outside the area of science. In this paper we discuss the role of animal welfare science in aiding ethics decisions about animal biotechnology. We give a summary of the different ethical concerns expressed by ethicists and by the general public. Focusing on one of them, animal welfare, we give an introduction to the animal welfare implications of recent developments in reproductive and gene technologies. The importance of animal welfare aspects is discussed in relation to other ethical concerns about animal biotechnology.

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Outline of a risk assessment: The welfare of future xeno-donor pigs

By K. Dahl, P. Sandøe, P. F. Johnsen, J. Lassen & A. K. Hansen (2003)
Animal Welfare. UFAW 

Abstract

The welfare of transgenic animals is often not considered prior to their generation. However, we demonstrate here how a welfare risk assessment can be carried out before transgenic animals are created. We describe a risk assessment identifying potential welfare problems in transgenic pigs generated for future xeno-donation of organs. This assessment is based on currently available information concerning transgenic animal models in which one or more transgenes relevant to future xeno-donation have been inserted. The welfare risk assessment reveals that future xeno-donor pigs may have an increased tendency toward septicaemias, reduced fertility and/or impaired vision. The transgenic animal models used in generating hypotheses about the welfare of xeno-donor pigs can also assist in the testing of these hypotheses. To ensure high levels of welfare of transgenic animals, analogous risk assessments can be used to identify potential welfare problems during the early stages of the generation of new transgenic animals. Such assessments may form part of the basis on which licenses to generate new transgenic animals are granted to research groups.

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