Livestock in biomedical research: history, current status and future prospective

Irina A. Polejaeva, Utah State University
Heloisa M. Rutigliano, Utah State University
Kevin D. Wells, University of Missouri


Livestock models have contributed significantly to biomedical and surgical advances. Their contribution is particularly prominent in the areas of physiology and assisted reproductive technologies, including understanding developmental processes and disorders, from ancient to modern times. Over the past 25 years, biomedical research that traditionally embraced a diverse species approach shifted to a small number of model species (e.g. mice and rats). The initial reasons for focusing the main efforts on the mouse were the availability of murine embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and genome sequence data. This powerful combination allowed for precise manipulation of the mouse genome (knockouts, knockins, transcriptional switches etc.) leading to ground-breaking discoveries on gene functions and regulation, and their role in health and disease. Despite the enormous contribution to biomedical research, mouse models have some major limitations. Their substantial differences compared with humans in body and organ size, lifespan and inbreeding result in pronounced metabolic, physiological and behavioural differences. Comparative studies of strategically chosen domestic species can complement mouse research and yield more rigorous findings. Because genome sequence and gene manipulation tools are now available for farm animals (cattle, pigs, sheep and goats), a larger number of livestock genetically engineered (GE) models will be accessible for biomedical research. This paper discusses the use of cattle, goats, sheep and pigs in biomedical research, provides an overview of transgenic technology in farm animals and highlights some of the beneficial characteristics of large animal models of human disease compared with the mouse. In addition, status and origin of current regulation of GE biomedical models is also reviewed.