Kiwi cow a sci­en­tific break­through

South Waikato News - - RURAL DELIVERY -

Al­lergy-free milk for chil­dren is a step closer af­ter New Zealand sci­en­tists made a world-first break­through us­ing a ge­net­i­cal­ly­mod­i­fied cloned 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 had been un­der way since 2006, and was funded by the Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment Min­istry and AgRe­search.

The ques­tion of whether the milk was hy­poal­ler­genic (low al­lergy), and could even­tu­ally be pro­duced and mar­keted as such, was the sub­ject of fur­ther ex­per­i­ments, he said.

The cow was called Daisy and was about 11-months-old.

She had a mys­te­ri­ous miss­ing tail that AgRe­search said it was in­ves­ti­gat­ing.

It expected to have an an­swer in a cou­ple of weeks, but did not be­lieve that the lack of a tail was 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, McNabb said.

Cur­rently New Zealand had 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.’’

The sci­en­tists, led by Dr Goetz Laible, worked in con­tain­ment at Ruakura in Hamil­ton and used sci­en­tific pro­cesses to 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, McNabb said. It is not in breast milk.

The re­search re­sults had been pub­lished in a pres­ti­gious Amer­i­can sci­en­tific jour­nal, Pro­ceed­ings of the Na­tional Academy of Sciences.

McNabb 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 in­ter­fer­ence’’, the mi­cro RNAs ‘‘knocked-down’’ the ex­pres­sion of the BLG pro­tein.

AgRe­search’s Dr Ste­fan Wag­ner said Daisy was cre­ated us­ing sim­i­lar tech­nol­ogy that was used to cre­ate the world-fa­mous cloned sheep Dolly.

He con­firmed the cow Daisy was ‘‘all cow’’ with­out any com­po­nents of other an­i­mals. 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,’’ McNabb said.

There were also plans to pro­duce a few more cows the same as Daisy by the start of next year.

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.

‘‘It’s go­ing to come down to what this coun­try de­cides. It’s more of a so­cial is­sue than a sci­en­tific one.’’

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

DIS­COV­ERY: New Zealand sci­en­tists make his­toric find.

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