Genetics, genomics and genetic modification in agriculture: emerging knowledge-practices in making and managing farm livestock (2003-2006)
BackgroundEgenis supported the development of an ESRC grant proposal to investigate an aspect of the social dimensions of farm animal genomics. The application process was successful and the research itself commenced in autumn 2007, involving the Universities of Hull, Nottingham and Exeter. A summary of what the research will entail is provided below.
AimsAccording to the scientists involved, recent advances in genetic and genomic science herald a 'new era' - even a 'revolution' - in farm animal breeding. However, in spite of the considerable scientific activity and commercial interest in farm animal genetics and genomics, it is notable that these advances have stimulated very little social scientific inquiry. And yet, these techniques and technologies raise many important social questions. This research will focus on pedigree cattle and sheep breed societies and breeders, and on the ways in which they are engaging with the science that is trying to explain and improve livestock through genetic and genomic advances. These groups are particularly significant because of their direct involvement in selection and the production of future generations of breeding animals. The research will examine how livestock breeding knowledge-practices and geographies of livestock breeding are being reconfigured in relation to emerging genetic/genomic knowledge-practices (we understand knowledge as inseparable from practice, so we refer to knowledge-practices in acknowledgement of the co-constitutive relationship between them and of the different forms these can take). Three specific objectives follow:
- To examine the relationships between an emerging genetic/genomic science of livestock and lay livestock breeding knowledge-practices;
- To assess how breeder identities, farm businesses and human-animal relationships are being affected by genetic/genomic science;
- To examine the roles of different actors in emerging livestock breeding networks associated with genetic/genomic science and the circulation of genetic/genomic knowledge through these networks.
MethodsUsing three specific genetic/genomic techniques in beef cattle and sheep breeding - genetic ‘merit’ assessments; genetic markers; and genetic modification - the research will adopt a multi-method approach to realising its objectives, including:
- Interviews and discussion groups with breed societies and livestock breeders involved in cattle and sheep breeding;
- Interviews with animal scientists working in farm animal genetics and genomics in both the public and private sectors;
- Interviews with the representatives of various 'intermediary' institutions such as agricultural colleges and research institutes, commercial breeding services, the National Beef Association and National Sheep Association;
- Textual analysis of various agricultural media reporting genetic and genomic advances;
- Use of a Consultation Panel of experts and interested individuals to guide the progress and development of the research.