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America’s Leading Animal Geneticist Wants to Talk to You About GMOs

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At 11 a.m. on a Thursday morning, Alison Van Eenennaam is sitting in a harshly lit lab room, surrounded by her graduate students, talking about cattle sex—sex that, unfortunately, has not gotten anything pregnant. With the gene-editing techniques she’s using, there could be many factors to blame: the location in the DNA strand of the edit, the biopsy performed to check the results of the edit, the freezing and the thawing of the embryo, the embryo’s journey from lab to farm in a thermos. Now, Van Eenennaam floats another idea. “No foreplay, the poor guy,” she says, a cheeky grin on her face. “The candle and the lighting wasn’t right.”

It’s a crucial morning for the team, one of the only public-sector animal genetic-engineering labs left in the country. Inside the animal science building at the University of California–Davis, the scientists gather around the table in a small, beige-colored conference room decorated by pastoral illustrations of farm animals. The meeting has taken on a frenetic kind of gallows humor, the team joking like a bunch of giddy kids before a big test. Seated near the front of the table, Van Eenennaam runs a hand through her silvery-blond hair and leans back in her chair, commanding the room with ease. Her newest doctoral student, 24-year-old Maci Mueller, pulls up a PowerPoint slide intended to bring their lab manager up to speed. Her slides outline plans to make a “surrogate sire,” a gene-edited bull with the ability to pass on superior traits through generations.

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Thanks !

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