July 24, 2020
HE CALF WAS late. His due date, March 30, had come and gone. At first, Alison Van Eenennaam chalked it up to male calves tending to arrive a day or two on the tardy side. As the week wore on, the animal geneticist reminded herself that gene-edited embryos—like the one that had been growing inside Cow 3113 for the past nine months—can take a little longer to signal to their surrogate mothers that they’re ready to be born. But by the following week, two false alarms at the UC Davis Beef Barn later, with still no signs of impending labor, Van Eenennaam’s fraying nerves had had enough. She called the vet. It was time to induce.
After nearly five years of research, at least half a million dollars, dozens of failed pregnancies, and countless scientific setbacks, Van Eenennaam’s pioneering attempt to create a line of Crispr’d cattle tailored to the needs of the beef industry all came down to this one calf. Who, as luck seemed sure to have it, was about to enter the world in the middle of a global pandemic.