by Bryan Slinker, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine
Challenges. We all have them. Often when we hear the word “challenge” we think of a difficult obstacle in our lives to be overcome. But for us in your College of Veterinary Medicine at WSU, we prefer to apply the magic of alchemy to turn challenges into opportunities.
The challenges we face serve as the basis for the hope and opportunity expressed in the Grand Challenges framed recently by WSU. These serve as a guide for much of what we aspire to achieve in the coming years. The Grand Challenges are focused on large, complex, multifaceted issues that affect us here at home and across the globe. Although lofty and broad, they will serve to guide much of what our college tries to achieve as one of WSU’s signature programs.
The Grand Challenges pull in the best minds across academic disciplines to help solve some of the most pressing problems we face. Sustaining health for people and animals, for instance, is intertwined with access to fresh water, ample food, and a reliable source of energy. Over the next 35 years, the world’s population is expected to grow to 9.5 billion—that’s 2 billion more people than are on the planet today. To feed this many people requires increasing protein production by 70 percent in a world facing climate change. So we must discover how to feed more people with no more arable land than we have today and, probably, less water. How to do this is a grand challenge indeed.
Although there will be many solutions, using genetics to produce livestock that can thrive with less water and resist infectious diseases will be key. We intend to build on our many strengths in the fundamental life sciences, including our expertise in reproductive biology, to discover basic genetic information that underlies desirable traits for livestock production and resistance to infectious diseases. Together with researchers across WSU, we will strive to advance our knowledge of animal genomes and advance gene editing research and development. Applying genomics knowledge and improved reproductive technologies, we can then help the peoples of the world thrive. On a global scale, an abundant, nutritious, safe food supply is as fundamental as a reduced disease burden when it comes to sustaining health. Thus, as our global programs engage in places like east Africa, it is increasingly clear that we must devote more attention to nutrition as we seek to also reduce disease.
I think it is amazing that the newly developing gene editing technologies we seek to apply to improve livestock production to better feed the world also, for the first time, begin to give us the ability to correct genetic defects. Thus, we foresee a day in which the discoveries of our Individualized Veterinary Medicine program, that now allow us to use genetic testing to shape therapy to greatest effectiveness with least toxicity, can lead to precise gene edits to repair the defect. For example, rather than testing a working-breed dog for sensitivity to the commonly used drug, ivermectin, in the foreseeable future we will instead be able to repair the gene defect so that offspring will no longer carry the undesirable trait. Grand.