19 July 2010, 13:52

Goats producing human milk substitute

Goats producing human milk substitute
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Russian dairy goats can produce milk containing human protein. Several cubs with a human genome in their DNA were born at a farm in the Moscow region’s Shakhovsky district as part of a joint Russian-Belarus research project.  Five years have passed since scientists from Russia and Belarus started experiments to obtain goat milk containing lactoferrin.

Russian dairy goats can produce milk containing human protein. Several cubs with a human genome in their DNA were born at a farm in the Moscow region’s Shakhovsky district as part of a joint Russian-Belarus research project. 

Five years have passed since scientists from Russia and Belarus started experiments to obtain goat milk containing lactoferrin. This human breast milk element protects a baby from viruses and bacteria while its own immune system develops.

"The protein produced by transgenic female goats is absolutely identical to the natural protein of human milk," says Yelena Sadchikova, the transgenesis laboratory chief at the Institute of Biology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. "The experiment is aimed to help bottle-fed infants, since artificial feeding cannot provide sufficient protection against infectious diseases. In the long run, this sometimes has a lethal outcome."

Unpretentious and almost unsusceptible to disease, goats were not coincidentally chosen as “suppliers” of the human protein. Their milk causes no allergic reactions in children and contains even more lactoferrin than human milk. Its amount will be regulated so that babies obtain as much as foreseen by nature.

Before linking the human gene to goat DNA, scientists carried out experiments on mice - a total of 6,000 laboratory tests. These showed that transgenity is a hereditary phenomenon transmitted by both female and male lines up to the tenth generation. For the time being, scientists are concerned over increasing the population of goats with genetically modified DNA. Out of every two transgenic cubs, only one will be able to reproduce, since there is only a 50-percent probability to inherit human genes.

Like every genetic experiment, the project has evoked much criticism, particularly with medical workers, such as Professor Yuri Smolkin, one of Russia’s leading allergist-immunologists. Although uncertain that human milk could be ever replaced by anything, he agrees that adding goat milk lactoferrin to baby food is a perfectly good idea.

Both supporters and opponents agree that lactoferrin in goat milk can also be used as a basic element of various medicines. And before it is used in baby food production, milk with human genes will be time and again tested to prove safe for the little ones.

Nadezhda Podolskaya
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