Ahead of the herd in break­through

South Waikato News - - FARMING -

Al­lergy- free milk for chil­dren is a step closer af­ter New Zealand sci­en­tists made a world­first break­through us­ing a ge­net­i­cal­ly­mod­i­fied cow.

The coun­try’s largest crown re­search in­sti­tute AgRe­search said it had bred the first cow in the world to pro­duce high-pro­tein milk with greatly re­duced amounts of a pro­tein be­lieved to be the lead­ing cause of milk al­ler­gies in chil­dren.

‘‘ It’s a very sig­nif­i­cant re­sult,’’ the in­sti­tute’s re­search di­rec­tor Dr War­ren McNabb said.

He was un­able to say how much the break­through could mean fi­nan­cially for New Zealand or how much the project had cost to date.

It has been un­der way since 2006, funded by the Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment Min­istry and AgRe­search.

Whether the milk was hy­poal­ler­genic (low al­lergy) and could even­tu­ally be pro­duced and mar­keted as such was the sub­ject of fur­ther ex­per­i­ments, Dr McNabb said.

The cow, Daisy, is about 11 months old.

She is miss­ing a tail that AgRe­search said it is in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

It ex­pects to have an an­swer in a cou­ple of weeks but does not be­lieve at this stage the lack of a tail is linked to ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

Be­fore the milk could be tasted by hu­mans, tested in clin­i­cal tri­als on hu­mans or pro­duced com­mer­cially, New Zealand’s ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion poli­cies would need to change, Dr McNabb said.

New Zealand has re­stric­tive poli­cies with strict rules on ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion in­clud­ing con­tain­ment pro­vi­sions for re­search.

‘‘ It’s go­ing to come down to what this coun­try de­cides.

‘‘It’s more of a so­cial is­sue than a sci­en­tific one,’’ he said.

Work­ing in con­tain­ment at Ruakura in Hamil­ton, the sci­en­tists, led by Dr Goetz Laible, used sci­en­tific pro­cesses to greatly re­duce the amount of a milk pro­tein known as beta- lac­toglob­u­lin ( BLG) in Daisy’s milk.

BLG is a milk whey com­po­nent be­lieved to be the main cause of al­ler­gic re­ac­tions to cows’ milk, par­tic­u­larly in in­fants and chil­dren, Dr McNabb said.

BLG is not in breast milk.

He said AgRe­search achieved the re­sults by work­ing suc­cess­fully with mice first. It then pro­duced Daisy, a fe­male calf ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered to ex­press two mi­cro RNAs ( short ri­bonu­cleic acid mol­e­cules).

Us­ing a tech­nique called ‘‘ RNA in­ter- fer­ence’’, the mi­cro RNAs ‘‘ knocked- down’’ the ex­pres­sion of the BLG pro­tein.

AgRe­search’s Dr Ste­fan Wag­ner said Daisy was pro­duced us­ing sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy to that used to cre­ate the world­fa­mous cloned sheep Dolly.

He con­firmed that Daisy was ‘‘ all cow’’ with­out any other an­i­mal com­po­nents.

Dr McNabb said the milk re­search was still in its early days.

The ini­tial re­sults came from in­duc­ing Daisy to milk as she was too young to pro­duce milk nat­u­rally.

She had pro­duced about a cup of milk over five con­sec­u­tive days, which was ‘‘ more than enough’’ to do the anal­y­sis and al­ler­genic­ity tests.

Next steps in the project in­clude breed­ing from Daisy, pos­si­bly next year, to pro­duce a calf and for Daisy to start milk­ing nat­u­rally so fur­ther tests could be done.

‘‘ If we can see sim­i­lar re­sults in an­other lac­ta­tion, we sud­denly have cows’ milk with­out what ev­ery­one be­lieves is the main al­ler­gen in cow’s milk,’’ Dr McNabb said.

There were also plans to pro­duce a few more cows like Daisy by the be­gin­ning of next year.

Dr McNabb said pos­si­ble com­mer­cial pro­duc­tion of hy­poal­ler­genic milk was a long way off.

‘‘ If this milk is to be hy­poal­ler­genic, as we sus­pect it will be, then we’ve got to get over the hur­dle of so­cial ac­cep­tance of this type of tech­nol­ogy be­fore you can then ap­ply it in the na­tional herd.

The suc­cess­ful re­search team com­prised co- authors Anower Jabed, Ste­fan Wag­ner, Judi Mc­Cracken, David Wells and Goetz Laible.

AL­LERGY FREE: Milk is one step closer.

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