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Genetics is misunderstood

The term ‘Genetic Selection’ features prominently in the narrative of agri-food research and innovation, but many misunderstand what it means and what it is used for.

Changes in environmental conditions are the main problem facing all animal and plant organisms, and reactions and adaptations to these changes are not the same for everyone.

Simplifying the concept, in nature those who react better ‘survive’ and pass on their ‘strong’ genetic characteristics to the next generation …

This mechanism is the basis of natural selection.

Gallus Bankiva, the ancestor of our domestic chicken, evolved over thousands of years in Asian forests to survive in a competitive and harsh environment. Not to provide convenient food for humans.

Centuries ago, man learnt from nature to ‘copy’ the mechanism of natural selection in order to obtain greater benefits from cultivated or bred species.

With this grandiose work of artificial selection, man has produced bigger ears of corn, tastier fruit, milder cattle and so on.

How does artificial selection work?

The pattern that is followed is to start with a very large population, then gradually reduce it until only the best specimens are kept.

  1. A change is introduced into a plant or animal population
  2. Then, each specimen is analysed and measured on a number of parameters to understand how it has adapted to the change
  3. Based on the results, each specimen is given a rating
  4. The more suitable the specimen is for our purpose, the higher its rating will be and the higher the chances of it being chosen/selected.
  5. Genuine selection is that process whereby, on the basis of individual evaluations, the specimens that will be used to produce the next generation are chosen. For animals, at least one male and one female.
  6. Once the next generation is obtained from the selected pair, we start again from step 2 with individual measurements and selection.
  7. After several cycles of selection and several years of work, organisms (plant or animal) are obtained that easily adapt to the change originally introduced.
  8. Nothing has been invented: it has merely encouraged the spread of those positive characteristics in the population that were originally only present in one or very few specimens.

The difference between natural and artificial selection is all in point 1.

Nature introduces random changes. So its selection is defined as natural.

Man introduces changes that serve his needs, which is why his selection is called artificial. Read more at this link:

In recent decades, researchers have also begun to use genetic engineering techniques that form the basis of GMOs.

The GMO technique is essentially used for plant life, for food and industrial purposes.

But how are GMOs obtained?

Using genetic engineering techniques, aimed at modifying the genetic heritage of living organisms in order to select strains of individuals with characteristics useful for biological experimentation.

We can divide genetically modified plants into two macro-groups:

GMHTs (Genetically Modified Herbicide Tolerance), i.e. those organisms in which genetic modification serves to broaden their tolerance to certain herbicides

GMIRs (Genetically Modified Insect Resistance), plants in which genetic modification increases their resistance to insect attacks.

The plants receiving genetic modification treatments are basically: maize, soya, potatoes, cotton, rape, tomatoes, beans and rice.

Ever since the first genetic engineering operations, Genetically Modified Organisms have aroused great curiosity, but also considerable criticism.

These criticisms have created an anti-GM climate in some sectors of society, a suspicion of the concept of genetic manipulation and widespread fear of the word ‘genetics’.

However, no one has ever explained to the uninitiated that no animal species used for human food is ever derived from genetic manipulation, but only from artificial selection.

Broilers, due to their faster life cycles, have benefited from artificial selection more than any other animal species.

Today’s chickens are now distant relatives of the Gallus Bankiva. They no longer have to survive in the jungle. Artificial selection has exchanged the qualities of the time (camouflage, fast escape) for fast growth and low consumption. Today, chickens grow in protected environments, without enemies, and always have quality, grain-based feed at their disposal.



However, the suspicions that develop around the term ‘genetics’ are attributable both to those who do not inform themselves, and to insiders who, when speaking (writing) to a general audience, insert terms that are clear to them, but not to those who do not have the same background as they do.

The term ‘genetics’ is especially misunderstood when it is introduced into the narrative of agri-food production systems and thus of all the food chains that provide the various stages from producer to consumer. The uninformed imagine genetics as a perverse world, when in fact it is one of the most important areas for the development of mankind and its sustenance, for the prevention and treatment of diseases and genetic defects in humans, animals and plants.

The poultry sector, like every other sector in which mankind engages, relies on research to obtain every possible benefit to increase the welfare of the animals it breeds, which, it must be remembered, is a prerequisite for those animals to become part of our diet.

Country by country, updates on antibiotic use are coming from the veterinary sector, and the latest figures show that Europe has one of the lowest levels of antibiotic use.

This is important news that reflects not only continuous improvements in breeding and veterinary care, but also a balanced approach to breeding for more resilient, robust and disease-resistant animals.

Science now makes it possible to intervene directly in DNA to correct diseased genes and predispositions to disease. And this fantastic innovation results in a general reduction in the use of medicine and drugs. In every field.

In fact, the opportunities offered by research and new technologies are helping to reduce the need for antimicrobial treatments and increase genetic resistance to major diseases in livestock.

Enormous possibilities for further improvements are being developed to reduce both the incidence of disease and the use of antimicrobial treatments, precisely because, as disease is the biggest welfare problem in livestock farming, it becomes doubly useful to apply up-to-date scientific methods and discoveries that enable the development of disease-resistant breeds and avoid the need for drugs or chemicals, while also significantly reducing the problems of antimicrobial resistance and environmental pollution.

Yet there are still many who do not recognise the importance of a scientific approach to the problems and who, when crops or livestock are decimated by pests or diseases, would prefer to eliminate the herds rather than the diseases … If such an irresponsible approach were adopted on a large scale today, it would lead to starvation for millions of people.

By enabling scientists to select valuable genetic traits in farm animals more quickly and accurately than the outdated breeding techniques of 60 years ago, they can accelerate the introduction of important genetic improvements that favour improved animal health and welfare, reduced use of antimicrobials and antibiotics, and increased assurance of food safety for consumers.


The editorial staff of M.A.C.