Chinese scientists say they have created a genetically modified cow whose milk is healthier because it is low in lactose. The scientists have also developed a cow that produces milk rich in health promoting omega-3 fatty acids. But the announcement has only triggered fears about "Frankenstein food." Chinese scientists, however, say that GM cows could bring huge health benefits. According to Daily Mail, Chinese scientists created the cow with high omega-3 fat milk after they modified the embryos to include genes from bacteria that produce the healthy fat. Health experts say Omega-3 fats are good for the arteries and the heart.
In the study published in the Journal of Transgenic Research, the group of Chinese scientists led by Dr. Guang-Peng Li, at the Key Laboratory for Mammalian Reproductive Biology and Biotechnology, used cloning technology to introduce a gene from roundworms into cow embryo. After the cow matured and gave birth, it started lactating. The milk it produced was tested and found to contain nearly four times as much omega-3 fatty acids as ordinary cow milk. The milk also contained only half the amount of unhealthy omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids found in ordinary cow milk that research has linked to cancer and heart diseases.
Lead researcher Li explained that, "Our results indicate that transgenic domestic animals can produce meat and milk enriched in n-3 fatty acids, which can probably become an efficient and economical approach to meet the increasing demand for omega three polyunsaturated fatty acids."
Omega-3 fatty acids are normally found in fish oil and nuts, and are believed to protect human beings against heart disease and play a role in brain function. Chinese geneticists, observers say, are now at the forefront of what critics term "Frankenstein farming" technology. Research in this field is far less regulated in China than in Europe and North America. Western proponents of GM research say that China could overtake the West in GM technology because of excessive regulation of GM R&D in the West. Daily Mail reports that another team of experts, working at the same university, have announced that they have created a calf that can produce milk low in lactose.
Lactose is a sugar that some people find difficult to digest. The condition in which a person finds it difficult to digest milk rich in lactose is termed lactose-intolerance. It is very common among people of black African descent. The Telegraph reports that in the UK, about five per cent of the population are lactose intolerant. However, the proportion soars to more than 90 percent in some black African populations. The proportion is as high as 60 per cent in some Chinese communities.
The Telegraph reports that Dr Zhou Huanmin, director of the Key State Laboratory for Bio-manufacturing at the Inner Mongolia University, where the cow was created, said "Ordinary milk contains lactose, while milk produced by our modified cow will have relatively low content of lactose, or even have no lactose." He explained: "Most people suffer the lactose intolerance in varying degree. We are attempting to breed a dairy cow that produce low lactose milk for supplying the market. We hope to commercialize it in the future."
The Telegraph reports that the scientists introduced a gene that produces enzymes that break down lactose sugar in dairy products to other forms of sugar that humans are able to digest more easily.
China.org reports that lab professor Zhang Li, said: "The enzyme can dissolve lactose [sugar] into galactose or glucose to ease digestive disorders among the lactose-intolerant people... the calf, is a blessing for these people. She will produce low-lactose milk after she is 25 months old and have delivered calves."
According to The Telegraph, geneticists were able to create the low lactose milk producing cows by injecting genes from bacterial-like organism called archaea into cells from cow embryos. The scientists produced 14 different embryos and implanted them into surrogate cows. Three of the calves carrying the low-lactose genes were born in April. But two died soon after birth.
Researchers expect that the surviving calf named Lucks, will begin producing low-lactose milk in about two years. China.org reports lab professor Zhang Li, said on Monday that Lucks, a modified Holstein dairy cow, was "healthy and strong." Tests on her milk will be conducted once she begins lactating to determine how much lactose the milk contains. According to China.org, the calf was born on April 24.
Alarm over "Frankenstein food"
But the new developments have raised fears among opponents of genetically Modified food, who are concerned about safety and ethics issues in this field of research. Some campaigners concerned with ethics issues say GM research causes unnecessary suffering to animals and therefore should be stopped, Daily Mail reports.
According to Daily Mail, Wendy Higgins of the Humane Society International, told Sunday Telegraph: "This simply isn't a morally responsible direction for farming to be heading in. Genetic modification of animals has an almost unique capacity to cause suffering and the welfare impacts on the animals produced can be both unpredictable and severe.The history of GM research tells us that the unseen cost will be animals born with unexpected and lethal deformities such as tumors, brain defects, deformed limbs and arthritis."
The Telegraph reports that Dr. Helen Wallace, director of Genewatch, said: "There is a question of food safety with GM livestock. As with all GM technology, there is a potential for unintended consequences as it is interfering with the natural biological production pathways of milk, so it could effect other nutrients or even have harmful effects."
Daily Mail reports that this is not the only recent Chinese research development in GM dairy cows. Last April, scientists bred 300 cattle whose genes were genetically engineered to include human genes so that their milk will contain the same level of nutrients as human breast milk. The Chinese researchers said they hope that this will provide alternative to conventional cow milk infant formula.
According to Professor Ning Li, lead researcher at the China Agricultural University, the milk is as safe as ordinary cow's milk. But campaigners criticized the new GM product, saying the development of GM cattle is ethically wrong. Daily Mail reports that the Chinese researchers produced 42 GM calves out of which only 26 survived. Ten died soon after birth, while six died within first six months of life. A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals said: "Offspring of cloned animals often suffer health and welfare problems, so this would be a grave concern. Why do we need this milk and what is it giving us that we haven’t already got?"
But a scientist Professor Keith Campbell, biologist at Nottingham University, who a member of the team that cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996, said GM animals do not threaten human health. He said they would pose health hazards to humans only if scientists deliberately inserted genes that can produce toxic products.
He said: "Genetically modified food, if done correctly, can provide huge benefit for consumers in terms of producing better products."- John Thomas Didymus, Digital Journal