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Genetically Engineered Goats Now Producing Human Breast Milk

Goat milking

Recently came the news of goats genetically engineered to produce a malaria vaccine in their milk. Now comes the news that transgenic goats have been engineered to produce human breast milk enzymes and proteins in their milk.

Scientists at UC Davis created the goats by taking human genes for breast milk enzymes and transferring them to embryos of goats, Co.Exist has reported.  So far, the transgenic goats can make milk with up to around 60 percent of the iysozyme and lactoferrin found in human mothers’ milk. For the goats’ milk, this will mean a longer shelf life and a quicker ripening process for cheese, because the changed components in the milk kill pathogenic bacteria and kill off milk’s beneficial bacteria sooner.

Human breast milk is known to help give babies immune defenses they are not able to get by drinking other animals’ milk. It is thought that milk from transgenic goats could be a good alternative when needed.

So far, the genetically engineered milk has only been tested on young pigs. Apparently they have displayed increased resistance to infections by E. coli after ingesting the milk. There’s no mention of when this milk will be tested on humans, but the researchers are using the testing on pigs “as a model to treat and prevent childhood diarrhea”.

It is thought that genetically modified milk such as this could eventually be useful in places where children often die from treatable diseases and infections, such as diarrhea. Elizabeth Maga, an animal scientist at UC Davis has said, “Our goats are not going to cure diarrhea everywhere, but it could make things better,” and “It shouldn’t be written off just because it’s genetically engineered.”

What are your thoughts on this kind of genetic manipulation of milk, with the admirable goal of improving infant mortality rates in places where they are high?

Image CC licensed by Olaf Gradin: Goat milk

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