A review of recent trends in animal science is used to provide a flavour of how, from a purely technical viewpoint, evolving biotechnology may influence animal production systems in the foreseeable future. The areas considered are: the nutritive value of foods and forages, animal health and welfare, the temporary alteration of production traits to meet an immediate goal, and the permanent alteration of traits to meet an immediate goal, and the permanent alteration of traits by genetic selection or by the production of transgenic animals. In improving the nutritive value of foods, modern biotechnology has produced food grade enzymes and amino acid supplements. Genetically engineered cereals, grasses and legumes, rich in essential amino acids, are on the horizon. In disease prevention, genetically engineered vaccines may be preferable to conventional ones in that they have a defined composition, with a degree of control during manufacture which allows amino acid substitution within the peptide to confer specificity to a particular serotype.
Modern techniques with the potential to promote a transitory alteration in a production trait involve either immunization against an inhibitory biochemical pathway or active promotion of a stimulatory pathway by the administration of recombinant-derived hormones and proteins. Strategies for permanent alteration of traits by gene transfer, initially directed to enhancing growth, are now shifting in emphasis towards the transfer of genes for enhanced nutrient digestion, disease resistance, and improved product quality. The role of recombinant DNA technology in the development of diagnostic probes for use in genetic selection programmes and in the monitoring of disease is also expanding rapidly.
In all areas of animal science, molecular biology is promoting a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms that control production. By so doing it should ensure that science fulfils its primary rôle of providing animal production industries with a range of options from which to choose the most acceptable way forward.