25 Feb

Transgenic livestock – India’s future?

By Prof Bruce Whitelaw, Animal Biotechnology, The Roslin Institute, the University of Edinburgh


Bruce Whitelaw

On this trip to exciting India I have participated in a very interesting brain-storming workshop on transgenic livestock, in Bengaluru, organised by the Indian Government’s Department of Biotechnology’s (DBT). The workshop was co-organised by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and hosted by the National Institute of Veterinary Epidemiology and Disease Informatics (NIVEDI).


The workshop brought together Indian scientists working with funding from DBT or the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in this field, with experts from UC Davis and the US Department of Agriculture, AgReaserch New Zealand, and Dr Mike McGrew and myself from the University of Edinburgh.


In addition to talks on the state-of-the-art science and what is already going on in India, regulatory issues were discussed. Also, given the topic, the workshop welcomed the presence of industry through the presence of Tropical Animal Genetics Ltd.


As desirable at a “brain storming” Workshop we had two days of lively discussion with much optimism that India can take a global position in the continuously developing field of transgenic livestock. With a strong focus on application in Indian livestock agriculture, it was quickly recognised that the opportunity to create biobanks, especially for poultry, and enhancing India’s traditional milch breeds were priorities. In addition, the opportunities for animal bioreactors was enthused about. Given the facilities currently available in India and the expertise amassed at the Workshop, these significant inroads into these priorities could be achieved quicky, if appropriate funding and coordination was available. I believe the University of Edinburgh, through scientists at The Roslin Institute and Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies can play a lead role in progressing this work.

Sunrise over Bengaluru


With both DBT and ICAR voicing their commitment to this area of biotechnological research and application I am optimistic that projects could start soon. In parallel, this area of science and the links with India chime with priorities within the UK research funding system. So the real opportunities that exist here in India for animal biotechnology seem to have a ‘green’ for go. This would provide a growth area for the relationship between Indian scientists and the University of Edinburgh.


The Workshop closed with ICAR’s Deputy Director General (Animal Science), Dr H Rahman, encouraging the participants to consider the huge diversity of altitude, climate, scale, and species that exist in India. This was quickly followed by Dr SR Rao of the DBT encouraging the Workshop participants to establish the Indian Transgenic Livestock Network (ITLN).


This, my fifth trip to India, is not over yet. Staying in Bengaluru I am now scheduled to attend the MicroHD2016 conference jointly organised by ICAR’s National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology (NIANP) and the Association for the Promotion of DNA FingerPrinting and other DNA Technologies (ADNAT). I am attending as I am a member of the Indian ADNAT Society, a linkage facilitated by Satish Kumar of ICMB, Hyderabad, who is both the current General Secretary of ADNAT and a University of Edinburgh alumnus.

NIANP hosts

Some of my colleagues from NIANP


NIANP is familiar to me having visited previously with Prof Nat Waran and other colleagues from Edinburgh, and having just given a public lecture there yesterday. My talk was graciously hosted by Dr Raghavendra Bhatta, Director of NIANP, who welcomed me back to his Institute. I am looking forward to an interesting conference and continuing to renew old and make new acquaintances, which is always such a pleasurable activity here in India.