Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Cows Producing Human-Like Milk

Scientists in Argentina and China have claimed to have engineered cows to produce human-like milk

In Argentina, Scientist from the Institute for Biotechnology Research, the National Institute for Agricultural Biotechnology and the National University of San Martin have engineered a cow to produce human-like milk.  They achieved this using Genetic Modification.  Human genes were implanted into a cow embryo containing two specific proteins.  One protein of which is completely absent in cows’ milk, and the other of very low levels.  These modified cells were cloned, and then implanted into a surrogate cow. 

Genetic modification

Genetic modification refers to the altering of genes within an organism.  Traditionally, two organisms with favourable traits would be bread together to produce tailored progeny.  The favoured traits are bread in, while the unfavourable traits would be bread out.  And since offspring inherit both the favoured and non-favoured traits of their parents, this process happens over a number of breeding cycles. These traits can range from an organisms colour and height to a plants capability to survive under drought conditions.  Genetic modification is similar, however it uses genes from one organism (which in some cases are artificially altered) and directly inserts them into another, or an organism may have its own genes modified.   

As a result of the project in Argentina, the calf, Rosa-Isa was born in April 2011.   It’s quoted that “The aim is to produce a highly nutritional, baby-friendly cow's milk with enhanced iron and anti-bacterial properties, they said.”  And Julian Domnguez, Argentina's agriculture minister, ‘says that the development of baby milk in cows fulfils a "significant social goal."’

Why human milk is more beneficial to babies

In cases where a new born baby for various reasons is unable to receive its mother’s breast milk, cow’s milk is commonly a substitute.   Although these products have much in common, cow’s milk baby formula is discouraged by health nutritionists for a number of reasons.  Protein has a higher presence in cow’s milk, however it is not so easily absorbed in the human gut.  This is because it lacks a number of accompanying nutrients, minerals and enzymes that allow maximum absorption.  Cow’s milk also contains higher levels of ion, however during the process of making the formula, Lactoferrin (a protein with iron-binding properties) is destroyed, thus making it harder for the baby to absorb.  Breast milk also contains more whey than curds which is favourable for human babies, and also contains anti-bodies that cow’s milk completely lacks. 

In disapproval of the project, animal welfare groups have questions the well-being of the cows and the safety of the milk.  In response to the safety of the milk, scientist Germn Kaiser dismissed these queries by saying ‘it’s not harmful for humans since our bodies are designed to digest these human proteins.’  A similar project was conducted in China.

Emma Phillips s42587453

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