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Veterinary Forum June 2009 (Vol 26, No 6)

Biotech goats' milk to help children

by Pat Bailey, Linda Caveney, LVT

    DAVIS, Calif. — Scientists in Brazil and at the University of California, Davis, have teamed up to develop a herd of genetically modified dairy goats that produce milk that can protect against the types of diarrheal diseases, which claim the lives of more than 2 million children around the world each year.

    The milk from the genetically modified goats will carry increased levels of the human enzyme lysozyme, which provides important immunologic benefits. It is found at high levels in human breast milk but normally is at low levels in goats' milk.

    The team plans to have a milk-producing herd of these goats established in Brazil within 2 years and hopes to begin human trials with the genetically enhanced goats' milk within 3 to 5 years.

    "This is an exciting partnership that promises to increase our understanding of how lysozyme destroys harmful bacteria that cause intestinal infections and diarrhea, and encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria," said James Murray, PhD, a professor of animal science and veterinary medicine at UC Davis.

    "We fully expect that the lysozyme-rich milk that these goats produce will provide remarkable improvements in the health of the children in parts of Brazil that struggle with diarrheal diseases," said UC Davis animal scientist Elizabeth Maga, PhD.

    Murray and Maga will work with their colleagues to transport semen or embryos from transgenic goats at UC Davis to the State University of Ceará and to establish the new breeding and milking herd there for the study.

    During the past 10 years, the two have developed a herd of genetically modified dairy goats at UC Davis and studied how the beneficial properties of human milk might be introduced into the milk of dairy goats.

    The new project, funded with a $3.1 million grant from Brazil's Ministry of Science and Technology, is led by Aldo Lima, PhD, professor and director of the Clinical Research Unit and Institute of Biomedicine at the Federal University of Ceará, in Forteleza, Brazil.

    "The interaction between undernutrition and diarrhea has been a long-lasting concern in developing countries," Lima said. "We have a great opportunity to do something extraordinary to improve people's lives by developing bioproducts for the treatment and prevention of infant diarrhea, one of the main causes of child mortality in regions like the Brazilian semi-arid region."

    All of the genetically modified animals will be in a closed herd, without contact with other domestic animals. These animals are not intended to be given or sold to producers or released into the population now.

    In Brazil and at UC Davis, the researchers also will clone goats from genetically engineered cells that carry the human lactoferrin gene. Lactoferrin is another important human milk protein with antimicrobial properties.

    Adapted with permission from UC Davis.

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