Guest essay by Eric Worrall
It would be wrong to think that the governments of the world are solely focussed on reducing CO2. Just in case the Paris conference fails to deliver, our selfless government scientists are spending your money, exploring a diverse range of strange mutant varieties of every day farm animals, to ensure world stays fed in the midst of soaring temperatures.
The latest focus is the Dwarf Cow.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald;
… the solution to the problem is simple and small, livestock experts argue: heat-tolerant dwarf cows.
A team of researchers from Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University and the state government’s Animal Husbandry Department are now promoting a switch to Vechur and Kasargod cattle, two local varieties known for being easy to raise, resistant to diseases and – most important – better at tolerating high temperatures than the more popular crossbred cattle.
“High-yielding crossbreed varieties of cattle can faint or even die during hot and humid summer days,” said E.M. Muhammed, an expert on animal breeding and genetics at the university. “Our natural breeds can better withstand the effects of climate change.”
Dwarf cows, on the other hand, appeared to carry a “thermometer gene” that allowed them to better tolerate high temperatures, researchers said.
Dwarf cows were already gaining popularity among some farmers because they consumed less food and water than conventional cattle varieties, the experts said. Small-scale farmers needed only one or two dwarf cows to meet the milk needs of their households, they said.
The Dwarf cow will no doubt find a place in the cattle yard, next to the Featherless Chicken, another government science favourite.
According to New Scientist;
Featherless chickens could be the future of mass poultry farming in warmer countries, says an Israeli geneticist who has created a bare-skinned “prototype”.
The new chicken would be lower in calories, faster-growing, environmentally friendly, and more likely to survive in warmer conditions, claims Avigdor Cahaner of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He created his red-skinned chicken by selectively crossing a breed with a naturally bare neck with a regular broiler chicken.
But critics say past experience with feather-free chickens resulting from random genetic mutation shows they suffer more than normal birds. Males have been unable to mate, because they cannot flap their wings, and “naked” chickens of both sexes are more susceptible to parasites, mosquito attacks and sunburn.
“Featherless birds would also be very susceptible to any temperature variations – especially as young birds,” says Tom Acamovic, of the Scottish Agricultural College in Ayr.
The chicken is “disgusting”, says Joyce D’Silva of Compassion in World Farming. “It’s a prime example of sick science and the suggestion that it would be an improvement for developing countries is obscene.”
These tentative steps are nothing compared to the efforts of Palaeontologist Jack Horner, to do a full conversion on modern Chicken breeds, to revert them back to ancient forms.
A genome does not evolve in a tidy fashion. Old genes are not always discarded when they fall out of use. For example, there may be a whole host of genes that direct the growth and movement of a dinosaur’s arm and fingers. If another gene evolved to fuse some of those bones into a wing during embryonic development, many of those arm-and-finger genes would be pushed to the sidelines. But the potential for a dinosaur arm could still be there. If you can identify the newer gene that causes bone fusion and disrupt its expression, those sidelined genes may suddenly start producing arms.
Horner posits that three primary engineering tasks will lead him from a conventional chicken to something resembling a miniature velociraptor (a small predator that became famous in “Jurassic Park”): creation of a long tail; the development of a toothed, beakless head; and the fashioning of arms with fingers and claws instead of wings.
Read more: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/paleontologist-jack-horner-is-hard-at-work-trying-to-turn-a-chicken-into-a-dinosaur/2014/11/10/cb35e46e-4e59-11e4-babe-e91da079cb8a_story.html
Perhaps Horner has missed a bet – if he had framed his grant application as an effort to produce heat tolerant chickens, chickens fully adapted to +4c Cretaceous conditions, we’d probably all have little pet dinosaurs by now.