A herd of genetically modified cows has been developed in China to produce human breast milk, reports the Daily Telegraph.
Scientists have used human genes to modify the DNA of cows to provide a potential alternative to human breast milk. The milk contains two human proteins. One, lysozyme, protects babies from infections after they’re born while the other, lactoferrin, boosts the immune systems of new babies.
Professor Li, who led the research, believes his work could produce milk that contains the benefits we already get from cow’s milk but with extra nutrition that is easier to digest.
“Human milk contains the ‘just right’ proportions of protein, carbohydrates, fats, minerals and vitamins for an infant’s optimal growth and development,” Professor Li explained. “As our daily food, the cow’s milk provided us the basic source of nutrition. But the digestion and absorption problems made it not the perfect food for human being.”
However, animal rights groups and GM skeptics have voiced their concerns about the the research and its use of clone technology.
“Offspring of cloned animals often suffer health and welfare problems, so this would be a grave concern,” said a spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals. “Why do we need this milk – what is it giving us that we haven’t already got?”
Helen Wallace, director of GeneWatch UK, added: “We have major concerns about this research to genetically modify cows with human genes. There are major welfare issues.”
Helen also questioned the safety of the milk for human consumption. “There is a question about whether milk from these cows is going to be safe for humans and it is really hard to tell that unless you do large clinical trials like you would a drug, so there will be uncertainty about whether it could be harmful to some people.”
But Professor Li is working towards a commercial product. “Within 10 years, people will be able to pick up these products at the supermarket,” he explained, adding that his team was confident the milk would be as safe to drink as regular cow’s milk.