Student Blogs – AN SC 110S: Animal Biotechnology and Society (First-Year Seminar Course)

Terry D. Etherton


One objective of my blog is to provide a public forum for presenting science-based facts about numerous issues that relate broadly to the use of biotechnologies and technologies for food production.  In the spirit of my blog being a public forum, students in a first-year seminar course I taught this Fall (Animal Science 110S: Animal Biotechnology and Society) had to write a short blog about some aspect of biotechnology and agriculture.

My objective was for the students to learn about biotechnology AND engage in a learning activity about communicating science to society.  I shared with the students that writing a blog would be a terrific learning experience about communicating science.  You will be the “judge” of how well they did this.  

The project was team based…that is, several students were assigned to teams.  Each team selected the topics and submitted their blogs to me for review (and grading).

The blogs were supposed to be 300 to 400 words.  I also conveyed to the students that as the authors of each blog they were responsible for the accuracy and content of their blog.  In addition, they have the responsibility of responding to any comments readers might have.  Thus, if you have any perspectives to share with the autors, please post a comment and I will forward it to the appropriate team for their response.

Enjoy reading the blogs.


Team 1:  Joslyn Beltram, Kassie Heeman, Sarah Nafziger, and Lucy Stubler

I Just Found Out there is rBST in My Milk!  What is it Doing There, and Should I Still Drink It?

 What is BST?

Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a naturally occurring  protein hormone produced by all cattle (1). Its basic function is to direct the nutrients from feed throughout the body, and in cows it also directs the nutrients to the udder.  When cows are lactating, bST causes feed energy to be used more for milk production instead of tissue synthesis (2). BST is present in all milk.

What is rBST and Why is it Useful?

rBST is recombinant bovine somatotropin, or  bST that is synthesized using recombinant DNA technology(3).  Cows are injected once every two weeks with rBST in order to increase their milk production.  With increased amounts of BST, the udder absorbs more nutrients from the bloodstream and is able to make more milk (4).  In addition, the efficiency of the conversion from feed to milk increases.

This is markedly beneficial in the dairy industry because each rBST-supplemented cow produces on average one extra gallon of milk per day, while consuming the same amount of feed and without any additional health problems!  That’s a 10 to15 percent increase in milk production with a cost increase of less than 5 percent (2).

Is Milk Produced by rBST-supplemented Cows Safe?

In 1993, rbST was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. agency responsible for regulatory review of the product (5).   Despite huge amounts of testing to search for any potential health risks, no professional science groups have ever found any evidence that there is any doubt about the safety of rBST in milk production (6).

rBST is not harmful to humans.  This is due to the fact that human somatotropin receptors do not recognize it. This causes it to be completely inactive in the human body, meaning that it can do no harm (3).  This being said, using rBST to increase milk production in dairy cows only produces more milk.  That is it.  Humans are completely safe to consume the milk produced by the cows receiving these hormones.  rBST is a protein and not a steroid, so rbST in milk is broken down (digested) in the human body just like every other protein we consume.


1. “Bovine Somatotropin (BST).” Biotechnology Information Series, North Central Regional Extension Publication, Iowa State University, December 1993. <>

2. Brennand, Charlotte P. and Bagley, Clell V.  “Food Safety Fact Sheet: Bovine Somatotropin in Milk.”  Utah State University Cooperative Extension. <>

3. Global Dairy Innovation, Elanco 2010. <>

4. Rushing, John E.  and Wesen, Don P.  “BST and Milk.”  NC State University Dept. of Agriculture and Sciences Cooperative Extention.  <>

5. “Report on the Food and Drug Administration’s Review of the Safety of Recombinant Bovine Somatotropin.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration, 23 April 2009. <>

6. “BST Fact Sheet.” University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Food Science.  <>



Team 2:  Julia Brown, Meleni Hoffman, Kendall Proctor, and Clayton West

Artificial Insemination in Alpacas

Artificial insemination (AI) is a technology used in many livestock breeding programs and has proved to be a very useful tool in the livestock industry.  It has decreased breeding costs, increased breeding efficiency, and helped control the spread of diseases.  Unfortunately, AI technology does not yet exist for any camelid species.  In order to develop the necessary technology, additional large-scale experiments must take place.  However, due to the low volume of the ejaculates, the samples cannot be split into the appropriate number of portions, or aliquots, necessary to perform said experiments (1).  Also, sperm quality varies within and between males, making it difficult to obtain consistent samples needed to test different preservation protocols (2).  Besides that, the high viscosity of the semen makes it difficult to divide the samples into aliquots (1).  In addition to these issues, there are also several obstacles when it comes to the female’s reproductive physiology.

In female alpacas, ovulation does not occur spontaneously, it is induced during mating.  During the act of copulation, the male’s penis stimulates the cervix of the female, which causes the release of hormones that, in turn, cause the final development of the follicle and lead to ovulation.  If mating does not occur, then the follicle will regress.  Because of this, female alpacas do not go through a period of estrous, but instead show a “prolonged period of sexual receptivity (3).”  Because of this, and the difficulties presented by male physiology, it is difficult to artificially inseminate an alpaca.

If progress could be made in developing  an artificial insemination program for alpacas, the industry would benefit greatly. The main advantage would be the possibility of widespread use of quality herd sires.  In addition,  AI would permit crossbreeding, which can change a production trait and would accelerate the introduction of new characteristics.  It also would reduce the risk of spreading sexually transmitted diseases and other diseases.   AI also would reduce the costs of breeding by eliminating the need to transport animals for mating.2  Overall, the addition of artificial insemination technology to the alpaca industry has been, and will be, a difficult goal to achieve, but it would greatly benefit alpaca farmers throughout the world.


1. Morton, Katherine, and W.M. Chris Maxwell.  The Continued Development of Artificial Insemination Technologies in Alpacas.  Australia: University of Sydney, 2006.  PDF.  25 Oct. 2011.

2. Reyna, Jorge.  “Artificial Insemination in Alpacas.”  Alpacas Australia. 2005; 48:38.  23 Oct. 2011.

3. Australian Alpaca Association (AAA).  “Key Reproductive Features and Reproductive Physiology.”  2008.  PDF.  25 Oct. 2011.



 Team 3:  Briana Cardie, Morgan Kimmel, Lindsay Royer, and  Zach Wolff

The Ethics of Biotechnologically Enhanced Animals

 There are some common misconceptions about animal biotechnology; however the pros far outweigh the cons. For instance; some people are concerned that genetically enhanced animals will compromise the purity, and change the overall biodiversity of the specific breed. Though animals naturally adapt to their environment, genetic enhancement alters this ability, which some consider unnatural and unethical (1).

While these concerns are understandable, some people are unaware of the benefits of genetically modified animals. There is a growing need for more food and fiber to support an increasing World population. The world population is increasing, and consequently food production needs to increase to meet the growing demands of the world (2). Genetically enhanced animals can help fill the ever-increasing gap between supply and demand. With medical breakthroughs, farmers can raise healthier animals with the use of antibiotics and vaccines (3). Less disease decreases the mortality rate, and increases production for less cost meaning more income for the farmer, and more supply for the market. This increase in income can benefit smaller farms who mostly use family labor force (4), as well as farms that, like any business, have suffered from the current economic instability of current markets. These enhancements can lead to less workers and more income for farms. The increase in product supply will decrease the consumer price as well, creating a “win-win” scenario for farmers and consumers.

Animal biotechnology benefits more than just the market and health of animals, but also our environment(5).  Biotechnology can enhance the wellbeing of people and animals by decreasing the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen in the soil by genetically modifying pigs to reduce release of gases such as methane into the atmosphere.  An increase in quality of meat can be attained by genetically enhanced pigs who produce more muscle and less fat (6).  Sheep can be genetically modified to produce more wool.  Human health can even be improved by the change in milk composition by deleting the Beta-lactoglobulin gene (one of the major proteins that causes milk allergens) which can reduce the mammary gland engorgement and infections associated with this protein(6).

So, while genetically enhanced animals may seem scary and unnatural, they are not but simply misunderstood.  They have a lot to offer our society, and are part of our generation’s way of improving our world.


1.  Murray, J. D. Dickson, J. Transgenic animals in agriculture. Wallingford, Oxon, UK ; New York, NY,USA:CABI Pub., c1999.

2.  Twine, R. Animals as biotechnology : ethics, sustainability and critical animal studies. London; Washington, DC : Earthscan, 2010

3.  Rollin, B. E. An ethcist’s commentary on animal rights versus welfare. Can Vet Journal. V 43(12) pp 913.

4.  Swain, D. L., D. Lloyd. Redesigning animal agriculture : The challenge of the 21st century. Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK ; Cambridge, MA : CAB International, 2007.

5.  Peacock, K. W. Biotechnology and genetic engineering. New York : Facts on File, c2010. Canadian Veterinary Medical Association. 2002.

6.  Houdebine, L. Animal transgenesis and cloning [electronic resource] / Louis-Marie Houdebine; translated by Louis-Marie Houdebine … [et al.].  Chichester, UK ; Hoboken, NJ : John Wiley & Sons, c2003.



Team 4:  Michael Chacko, Taylor Marino, Julie Schou, and Caroline Wu

Food Biotechnology

By definition, food biotechnology is the application of biological processes to increase rates of food production.  Because the population of the World is expanding, we need a highly sustainable and more efficient method of producing food(1). For example, by 2050, it is estimated that we will need to feed nine to ten billion people(5). With an increase in population, there is a decrease in available farm area. With that being said, it is not only prudent, but it is vital that we find an alternative to traditional farming methods.

Population growth is dependent on the number of deaths and births(5). As time goes on, there are fewer deaths than births in the world. Thus, there is a net population growth. As population increases, food consumption also escalates, because they are directly proportional. Not only does the world have considerably more people than it did years ago, but the consumption of food per person is much higher than it previously was in Developed countries, due to individual income growth in Developed countries. In conclusion, we need to maximize crop production efficiency (quantity produced per acre) to compensate for this increase in population growth.

Food biotechnology is an important main alternative to solving the problem of feeding a growing population. One use of this biotechnology is growing plants faster and larger. To do this, scientists splice specific genes in crops and create a desirable DNA strand(3). For example, scientists can genetically alter a specific crop to be less likely to wither from lack of water (i.e., be more drought resistant). Today, many foods are being grown with biotechnology, but most of the population is unaware of this. Some in society view the use of this technology as being controversial(4). The main reason for this is that people are unsure if what is being done to these foods is safe(6). There is still much to learn about this technology, however, for now this seems like the most effective method of producing food.

As is apparent, food biotechnology is a vital part of the lives of people around the world, whether they know it or not. Although this topic can sometimes be controversial, due to the media and people’s lack of knowledge, it is an important topic that needs to be discussed in order for the world’s population to survive for generations to come.


1.) Ervin, David E. Glenna, Leland L. Jussaume, Raymond A. Jr. “Are biotechnology and sustainable agriculture compatible?” Renewable agriculture and food systems. 2010 June, v. 25, issue 2 p. 143-157.

2.) Vianna, G. R., N. B. Cunha, A. M. Murad, and E. L. Rech. “Review Soybeans as Bioreactors for Biopharmaceuticals and Industrial Proteins.” Genetics and Molecular Research 10.3: 1733-752. Rpt. in 2011.

3.) Fleet, G.H. “Biotechnology and Food Production–relevance to Nutrition.” Journal of Food & Nutrition of Australia 45.Dec. 1988 (1988): 90-93. AGRICOLA. Web. 8 Oct. 2011.

4.) Avery, A. A.; Irish Grassland Association, Borris in Ossory, Irish Republic, Irish Grassland Association Journal, 2003, 37, pp. 17-27.

5.) Etherton, T. (2011). PowerPoint Lectures August 23-November 15, AN SC 110S. University Park PA, 16802.

6.) Isshiki, K. “Food Technology Development and Safety.” Seibutsu-kogaku Kaishi. 2010 Vol. 88 No. 11 pp. 609-611.



Team 5:  Carrie Clark, Samantha McKinney, Alyssa Sheppard, and Kelsey Zook

 Organic Farming Economic Efficiency

 Organic farming is a form of agricultural production in which the use of artificial production aids such as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are strictly controlled or excluded entirely from the operation. While organic farming appeals to many consumers, there is evidence that shows that the disadvantages may outweigh the advantages of organic food production in comparison to conventional farming practices.

There are many obstacles that are faced by both farmers and consumers that are involved in the production and sales of organic products. There are high managerial costs involved with organic farming, as well as the added risk of shifting towards a new way of farming.  In general, producers and consumers alike have a limited awareness of organic farming practices. In addition, issues with marketing and business as a whole involved in organic farming have been observed (1). Certified organic suppliers are most commonly utilized in the distribution of organic goods (2). States now charge additional fees for certified producers because they are seen as an ongoing expense. Consumers, in turn will face a higher price because of these state implemented fees (1).

When analyzing cost and profit for conventional and organic farming no significant differences between either of these areas for the two different methods can be seen. In a study conducted in Hungary, it was found that in winter wheat production the material costs were the same for organic and conventional farming, but the production cost per unit was up to 35% higher in organic farming. The material costs in conventional farming stem from the chemicals used for crop production, while the costs for materials is due to a greater amount of soil and plant conditioning in organic (3). Higher prices for organic products are the result of these added production costs (1).

While consumers may believe that there are added health benefits related to consumption of organic products the economic disadvantages to organic farming are quite high and outweigh these possible benefits. While organic producers may see a higher profit, the overall economic advantages are difficult to recognize (3).


1. Green, C., Kreman, A. (2000). U.S. Organic Farming in 2000-2001: Adoption of Certified Systems. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economics Research Division Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 780.

2. Dimitri, C., Oberholtzer, L. (2008). Baseline Findings of the Nationwide Survey of Organic Manufacturers, Processors, and Distributors. U.S. Department of Agriculture Economics Research Division Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 36.

3. Urfi, P., Kormosne Koch, K., Basci, Z. (2011). Cost and Profit Analysis of Organic   Farming In Hungary. Journal of Central European Agriculture.



Team 6:  Isaac Haagen, Casey McQuiston, and Jessica Solis

 Therapeutic Cloning

Great strides are being made in biotechnology.  The necessity to increase knowledge and skills within this field is ever increasing.  Today, our society is recognizing the myriad of benefits biotechnology has provided. It is an exciting time, in which the previously intangible is now becoming tangible. One such exciting advancement in recent history is the evolution of therapeutic cloning.

Therapeutic cloning is a relatively simple concept.  It involves cloning an embryo for the purpose of creating a store of embryos which can then be used for extracting embryonic stem cells. These stem cells can then be put to use in regenerative medicine and also combating many genetic disorders. While this may appear to be rather simple concept, it has, however,  proved much more difficult in practice.  The first human embryo was successfully cloned in 2001 without successfully producing any embryonic stem cells. Since then, scientists have successfully managed to retrieve embryotic stem cells form several mammalian species; however, attempts to obtain embryonic stem cells from cloned human embryos have remained fruitless (1,2).

Regardless, strong efforts are being put forth to make the use of therapeutic cloning a success.   The primary reason for this continued interest is the exciting possibilities therapeutic cloning provides the medical field particularly in the area of regenerative therapy.   The use of therapeutic cloning would allow for one to remove the current constraints involved with organ and tissue transplants.   Specifically, therapeutic cloning removes the possibility of organ and tissue rejection from donor to patient and alleviates the severe shortage of organs the medical field is currently facing.   In addition, therapeutic cloning holds huge promise in treating neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, genetic conditions such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and common diseases such as diabetes (3,4).

It is important for one to realize that therapeutic cloning is performed specifically for the purpose of producing embryos for embryonic stem cells; under no circumstances is the use of therapeutic cloning performed for the creation of a new human being.  With this in mind, it is clear that the use of therapeutic cloning is a scientific advancement that will prove most beneficial to the aid of peoples around the globe (5).


1 Arshad, S. (2008). Cloning. In Gale Carnegie Learning. Retrieved November 10, 2011, from Gale Virtual Reference Library.

2 Aschheim, K. (2011, November 8). Toward human therapeutic cloning. In Nature Biotechnology. Retrieved November 15, 2011, from PubMed (22068535).

3 Seidel, Jr., G. E. (2004). Cloning: I. Scientific Background . In Gale Carnegie Learning. Retrieved November 17, 2011, from Gale Virtual Reference Library.

4 Kfoury, C. (2007, July 10). Therapeutic cloning: promises and issues. In PubMed Central. Retrieved November 10, 2011, from PubMed (PMCID: PMC2323472).

5 McGee, Glenn. “Human Cloning.” Encyclopedia of Science, Technology, and Ethics. Ed. Carl Mitcham. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2005. 938-942. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Nov. 2011.

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