Would you drink milk from genetically-modified cows?
Allergy-free milk for children is a step closer after New Zealand scientists made a world-first breakthrough using a genetically-modified cloned cow.
The country's largest crown research institute AgResearch said it had bred the first cow in the world to produce high-protein milk with greatly reduced amounts of a protein believed to be the leading cause of milk allergies in children.
"It's a very significant result," the institute's research director Dr Warren McNabb said. He was unable to say how much the breakthrough could mean financially for New Zealand, or how much the project had cost to date.
It has been under way since 2006, and funded by the Business, Innovation and Employment Ministry and AgResearch.
The question of whether the milk was hypoallergenic (low allergy), and could eventually be produced and marketed as such, was the subject of further experiments, he said.
The cow is called Daisy and is about 11-months-old.
She has a mysterious missing tail that AgResearch says it is investigating. It expects to have an answer in a couple of weeks, but does not believe at this stage the lack of a tail is linked to genetic modification.
Before the milk could be tasted by humans, tested in clinical trials on humans or produced commercially, New Zealand's genetic modification policies would need to change, McNabb said.
Currently New Zealand has restrictive policies, with strict rules on genetic modification including containment provisions for research.
"It's going to come down to what this country decides. It's more of a social issue than a scientific one."
Working in containment at Ruakura in Hamilton, the scientists, led by Dr Goetz Laible, used scientific processes to greatly reduce the amount of a milk protein known as beta-lactoglobulin (BLG) in Daisy's milk.
BLG is a milk whey component believed to be the main cause of allergic reactions to cows' milk particularly in infants and children, McNabb said. It is not in breast milk.
The research results publish today in a prestigious American scientific journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. McNabb said AgResearch achieved the results by working successfully with mice first.
It then produced Daisy, a female calf genetically engineered to express two micro RNAs (short ribonucleic acid molecules).
Using a technique called "RNA interference", the micro RNAs "knocked-down" the expression of the BLG protein
- © Fairfax NZ News
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