Transgenic Cows' Milk Developed, 80 Percent Identical to Human Milk

Michael Santo's picture

This is truly an ironic development, considering that at one time China was at the heart of scandals regarding tainted powdered and liquid milk, but Chinese scientists have genetically modified cows to produce what is essentially breast milk, human breast milk, that is.

It seems impossible, but apparently not. Researchers at the State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology of the China Agricultural University introduced human genetic coding into the DNA of Holstein dairy cow embryos. Those were then implanted into cow "surrogate mothers," to so speak, who carried them to term.

The results were something that could be a great boon to those who have to provide breast milk to their children. There are some children who simply must drink breast milk to survive. However, there are also those mothers who cannot provide such breast milk.

Li Ning is a professor and the project's director, as well as its lead researcher. He said, "The genetically modified cow milk is 80 percent the same as human breast milk. Our modified cow milk contains several major properties of human milk, in particular proteins and antibodies which we believe are good for our health and able to improve our immune system."

The key, it seems, is that with the genetic change, the animals now produce milk with large quantities of lysozyme. This is a protein that is normally not abundant in cow milk, but is in human milk. Lysozyme makes the milk healthier than standard cows' milk, but also adds the taste of human breast milk, which tastes stronger and sweeter than that of a cow. Although this milk could be a boon to those with infants requiring mother's milk, it could also be something that adults use to be healthier.

The question now is, how safe is it? It's not simply a question of the milk coming from China, although that will be a question, of course. In 2008, a milk scandal hit China, but at least did not reach American shores. In it, melamine was detected in both powdered and liquid milk. Melamine makes a substance appear to have more protein. This is the same contamination seen earlier (2007) in dog food from China, and for the same reason: melamine contamination, to make it appear the dog food had more protein.

[The contaminated dog food reached U.S. shores, unlike the milk.]

Melamine is poisonous to humans, and affected dogs in the same way in the earlier dog food scandal. By November 2008, China reported an estimated 300,000 victims, with six infants dying from kidney stones and other kidney damage, and a further 860 babies hospitalized.

In this case, however, the fear is about genetically modified, or transgenic milk. Initial testing suggests the milk is indeed safe. However more extensive testing must be done before you see transgenic human cow milk on store shelves in the United States.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

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