Honors Bio C
De-allergizing The Milk of our Cows
In 2012, Scientists from AGResearch in New Zealand genetically modified a cow in order to have the cow produce milk that is low in beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), which is a whey protein some babies are allergic to. Genetically modifying cows is a very expensive process, so the scientists at AGResearch begun with experimenting with mice. In Genetic Engineering, a gene is physically removed from one organism and it is inserted into another. The mice were genetically engineered to produce the BLG protein found in sheep and cattle milk. The scientists used a technique called RNA interference, in which two microRNAs were inserted into the mouse to reduce the expression of sheep BLG. RNAs that had been designed for reducing BLG had been tested prior to this experiment in cell culture. After modifying the BLG protein in the mice, they achieved to produce milk in the mice with 96% less sheep and cattle BLG protein.
Having carried out this experiment on mice, they were comfortable with trying it on a female calf they named “Daisy.” They injected cow cells containing the same anti-BLG genetic modification into unfertilized cow eggs, and after fertilization, they implanted the embryos into uteruses of mature cows. This cloning process failed on the first attempt, but Daisy was part of the second batch of embryos which was successful. Daisy was genetically modified to express the same microRNAS, and this time, the BLG protein found in the cow’s milk was targeted. To induce the calf to lactate, they used hormones, and when Daisy produced her milk, it had no detectable BLG protein. This hypoallergenic milk also appeared to be even more nutritious than regular cow’s milk, as it contains double the amount of the healthy milk proteins that are known as caseins.
Although this whole process has shown to be useful to remove the BLG protein, it does arise questions concerning ethical points of views. On one side, one might think this process of genetically modifying the cows and cloning them to get BLG-free milk is totally ethical, because it is proven to be functional, and it can be used easily. Daisy the cow’s milk was clean of BLG, and it is more nutritious than regular cow milk. This process could also be used to target other genes and then used to protect livestock from diseases. This could not only be used on animals to clean their milk from allergy-causing proteins, but it could also be used on them to make them more resistant to certain conditions or diseases. Eventually, this process could even be used on humans, but that is far away to come.
However, with all these ethical upsides come many more unethical downsides. To begin with, it isn’t even known for sure if this new type of milk is safe for human consumption. The scientists from New Zealand emphasized that they are still at the discovery stage. According to New Zealand’s current GM legislation, this milk cannot legally be consumed by humans. A second unethical thing is that during this process, mice were cloned and genetically modified, which means that some mice must’ve died in this process. Then, of the 100 blastocysts that the scientists implanted into cows, more than half of the pregnancies failed early on, and only one calf, Daisy, was born to live on. This shows that the cloning technique is not efficient, and that it shouldn’t be used if so many embryos are going to die. Also, this process may clean the milk from BLG allergies, but it does not solve the allergy problem of lactose intolerance, which is way more common in humans than BLG allergies. Only 2-3% of the U.S. population has BLG allergies, while about 65% of the U.S. population has lactose intolerance. Another unethical aspect is that the milk that they got from Daisy was induced artificially, so we do not know if the milk would be the same if it was naturally induced by the cow’s own cycle.
Overall, I think that this genetic modification and cloning process is unethical in many ways, even though it may be used for good causes. The fact is that in this process, mice were killed, and embryos were killed too. I think that this process should be used for these kinds of things, such as removing allergies or diseases, but the process should only be used if the disease or allergy in question is common, or a life-threatening disease. If a common allergy or disease occurs, or if a life-threatening disease occurs, and that it can be prevented by this process when it is safe to be used and sure to succeed, then yes, it should be used. But to this day, the process is still being tested, and the success rate isn’t perfect, so there would be a risk of failure, and in that case, the process shouldn’t be used.
“Gardner, Amanda. "Genetically Modified Cow May Hold Answer for Milk Allergy." CNN. Cable News Network, 1 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.”
“Nordqvist, Christian. "GM Cow Produces Milk For Allergic Babies." Medical News Today. MediLexicon International, 2 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2016”
“Sample, Ian. "GM Cow Designed to Produce Milk without an Allergy-causing Protein." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 01 Oct. 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.”
"UNL's AgBiosafety for Educators." UNL's AgBiosafety for Educators. University of Nebraska Lincoln, n.d. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
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