Conference opens quietly despite officials’ fears

by Fabiana Torreao

Despite an increased police presence with nearly $200,000 in new riot gear, the University-sponsored animal genetics conference in downtown Minneapolis kicked off with the silence of a lab mouse this week.
Barricades surrounded the Hyatt Regency Hotel as police officers wandered around an empty designated demonstration area in front of the hotel.
Inside, the atmosphere was one of a routine science meeting.
More than 600 scientists from all over the world presented their research using workshops, lectures and posters.
“(The purpose) is to share each other’s work and see what’s going on internationally,” said Monica Roberts, of the University’s veterinary pathobiology department. “You meet people that you read about.”
Most attendees cited the social interactions at the meeting as its most important goal. Such social contact not only allows the sharing of research and knowledge to take place, but also creates possibilities for collaborative partnerships for ongoing and future works.
Research topics varied from gene mapping of various animals to reducing diseases through breeding of certain species.
German scientist Karin Rottengatter, for example, focuses her research on a cattle sleeping disease that kills the animal within 200 days. Caused by a tick, the disease affects a significant number of cattle in some sub-Saharan countries. Vaccination for the disease is nonexistent, and a cure, through chemotherapy, is very expensive, she said.
Her research attempts to find a cattle breed that will not be susceptible to the disease.
University of Munich researcher Gregor Durstewitz said meetings like the animal genetics conference might help shed light on important questions, including finding solutions to global food production that preserves biodiversity.
The conference is the 27th biannual meeting of the International Society for Animal Genetics.
The University bid to host the meeting three years ago and members of the College of Veterinary Medicine have spent the last year preparing for this weekend, organizers said.
Although the organization is based in Madison, Wis., this is only the third time the biannual meeting has taken place in the United States. The last meeting was in New Zealand and the previous one in France.
This is the first time the meeting has attracted protesters.
Some said it happened because this year’s meeting is in the United States, others said it is because genetically modified organisms have been receiving a lot of publicity lately.
“I never thought that anyone would even notice it besides science people,” Roberts said, who presented a poster about gene mutation for a dog disease at the conference.
The general public’s lack of information on genetic engineering is the cause of the opposition, she added.
“(The public) get bits and pieces of information and that scares them. When people think of genetic engineering they think of people growing mice that have two heads,” Roberts said. “In most cases we just take blood.”
“We’re just trying to help animals. We love animals,” she said.

Fabiana Torreao welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3212.