June 10, 2011

China Genetically Modifies Cows To Make Human Breast Milk

A team of scientists at China's Agricultural University has genetically modified dairy cows to produce human breast milk, and hope to sell it in supermarkets within three years, SkyNews in Britain reported.

The scientists genetically engineered 300 dairy cows to produce milk that contains nutrients such as lysozyme, a bacteria-fighting material that improves infants' immune systems early in life, found in human breast milk.

The researchers introduced genes that express these human milk properties to the embryos of Holstein cattle, and then implanted these embryos into surrogate cows that then produced milk containing lysozyme and two other proteins in human milk, the Telegraph reported.

Infant formula made from cow's milk is harder for babies to digest than breast milk, and lacks the nutritious, infection-fighting, immune-boosting substances.

However, cow's milk infant formula can support healthy babies with normal dietary requirements.  Indeed, some mothers combine both breastfeeding and infant formula-feeding when the baby is not receiving the proper amounts of hydration or nutrition.

Although the new, genetically modified milk must undergo safety tests before it can be sold, the Chinese scientists told the Telegraph they hope it will commercially available within the next three years.   But it will likely take longer before it hits grocery store shelves.

"For the 'human-like milk,' 10 years or maybe more time will be required to finally pour this enhanced milk into the consumer's cup," researcher Ning Li, director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at China Agricultural University, told the Telegraph.

Workers who have tasted the milk say it is sweeter and stronger than typical cow's milk.

"It's good," worker Jiang Yao told SkyNews.

"It's better for you because it's genetically modified."

The work was published in March in the journal PLoS One. 


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