Cows churn out 'human breast milk'

2011-06-16 22:16

Beijing - Moo-ove over, Mum.

Chinese scientists have produced a herd of genetically modified cows that make milk that could substitute for human breast milk - a possible alternative to formula in a nation rocked by tainted milk powder scandals.

Researchers at the State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology of the China Agricultural University introduced human genetic coding into the DNA of Holstein dairy cow embryos, then transferred the embryos into cow surrogates.

In 2003, after years of testing on mice, scientists managed to create the first cow that could produce milk with the same nutritional properties as human breast milk, but with a taste even stronger and sweeter.

"The genetically modified cow milk is 80% the same as human breast milk," said Li Ning, a professor and the project's director as well as lead researcher.

"Our modified cow milk contains several major properties of human milk, in particular proteins and antibodies which we believe are good for our health and able to improve our immune system."

Over 300 cloned cattle now live on an experimental farm in suburban Beijing, with new calves delivered every week.

Li's team, which is supported by a major Chinese biotechnology company, aims to have an affordable form of the milk on the market within three years.

Behind their efforts is a series of poisonings and toxin scandals that have shaken consumer trust in China's dairy sector and its products.

In 2008, at least six children died and nearly 300,000 fell ill from drinking powdered milk laced with melamine, an industrial chemical added to low quality or diluted milk to fool inspectors checking for protein levels.

Tests needed

Before the milk can be marketed, for other people as well as babies, stricter safety tests are needed, Li said.

"In fact, we still need to conduct clinical trials on human beings with volunteers and finally prove that the cow milk is good and safe for the elderly, infants and the ill, especially those suffering from chronic diseases," Lid added.

"Only after these steps are completed can the government examine it and approve a certificate for its commercial use."

Despite the potential, the team's breakthrough has drawn criticism from opponents of genetically modified food who question the safety of the milk for humans. Others worry about the impact on the cows' health.

Greenpeace notes that China has been investing considerably in genetically modified food research in recent years, despite the lack of a credible, independent system of supervision and inspection.

It also insists that genetically modified products should not be allowed to enter the human food chain.

Chinese parents had a mixed response, with some wary but willing to give the milk a try while others were far more cautious.

"I won't try it. Even if it's similar to human breast milk, it's still genetically modified," said a woman who gave her family name as Lu, the mother of a 14-month-old girl.

"I think natural products are much better. I don't know what might happen if my daughter consumes genetically modified things."

  • Ginie Chester - 2011-06-16 23:10

    haahahaha, so what's next? carrying babies for us?

      shmangle - 2011-06-17 07:39

      Maybe, at some point, and if human perception of GM etc, has changed by then, it would probably be accepted. You seem quite incredulous asking "carrying babies for us?", but that's just because it's outside of the norm. Once it's possible for a while, it slowly stops being so outrageous, and people start doing it. I wouldn't be surprised if it happened at some point, and it would probably start out as a way of allowing people who can't have kids, have kids. From there, as it became more mainstream, reasons to do it would also become more mainstream, less risk to the mother, or even at some point purely cosmetic, mothers not wanting to put their bodies through pregnancy. Just like the increase in caesarian sections went from emergency only, to planned caesars just because the mother chooses it. Don't seem so shocked by the concept, it betrays your narrow-mindedness. I'm not saying we should be actively pursuing it, merely that if it becomes possible, it will inevitably be more widely used, and accepted, and the only real reason anyone thinks it's terrible, is because it's outside of the norm, and they're prejudiced in thinking the status quo should remain. People fear change, especially when it's something as sacred to them as bearing children.

      NuttyZA - 2011-06-17 11:10

      Shmangle... whilst I agree with you on nearly everything you are saying, I would say that caesarian sections have gone from only emergency to planned NOT because the mother chooses but rather the Gyne taalks the mother into it... Far more convenient for the Gyne if he can plan when the baby is born... that way, he gets to fit his deliveries around his golf games

      Spoofed - 2011-06-17 12:22

      Hey nuttyZa when you have to tear your vagina apart to push out a baby then you can give your opinion on caesarian sections. Did you know that sometimes they have to cut the flesh between the vagina and the anus to get the child out? you have no idea whats it's like.

      NuttyZA - 2011-06-17 12:41

      Spoofed, of course I have an idea what it is like... I was present for the birth of all 3 of my children... the last Child nearly died because th gyne insisted on inducing my wife... the birth was breach and he ended up having to do an emergency caesar... he had been nagging my wife to have a caesar for the last 3 months of her pregnancy... both of my other children WERE born naturally (without an epidural even) with no complications whatsoever altho yes, an episiotomy was performed in both cases... My wife insists that Natural Birth was FAR easier and far less painful... and you find that it is ONLY SA gyne's that insist on wanting to give caesars...more money in it for them which is covered byu Med Aid AND it allows them to plan their time AND prevents them from being called out in the middle of the night... it is VERY rare for a child to be born by Caesar in the UK (only in emergency cases)...

      shmangle - 2011-06-17 14:41

      I have also noticed that trend Nutty, ObGyn's use fear as a tactic to persuade the parents into a c-section, siting every little thing they see as being dangerous when in most cases, it quite normal, to get the parents to choose the caesar. But cases where mothers choose c-section over natural birth, where there is no good cause for it is definitely on the rise and has been for a while. It's viewed as the easier and less painful route, even though there are negative aftereffects.

      shmangle - 2011-06-17 14:47

      Back in your cage spoofed! No-one pushed the idiot button. This wasn't a debate about whether it's preferrable for a woman to have a c-section of natural, it was an example of how perceptions have changed with regards to what is normal and what is abnormal, and how quickly those perceptions will change again as soon as new technology and procedures change the playing field. No-one was actually trying to make any kind of right/wrong statement about caesars or needing your perineum cut, or it being torn.

  • croix - 2011-06-17 00:14

    Google: and read up about "genetic engineering" and a whole host of health & lifestyle subjects (sugar, vaccines, etc). Or Google: "" - all sorts of interesting stuff.

      TheSkepticDetective - 2011-06-17 07:11

      also, Google "I have no brain and am really enthusiastic about conspiracy theories"

      croix - 2011-06-17 21:20

      @ TheSkepticDetective - What does 'TSD' represent? Maybe: "Trusting Spoonfed Deviant". Why don't you Google "I have no brains and believe everything I see & hear". For someone who purports to be a 'detective' you don't seem very bright.

      angela.meadon - 2011-06-19 17:26

      @croix, I don't have to Google "" to know that The Health Ranger is a crank. And you should know that too.

  • Lezl van Veuren - 2011-06-17 05:01

    ...These are the same people that add led, chemicals, plastic and all sorts of illegal substances to food, and had out free packets of MSG in supermarkets. Next thing you know, you are going to have babies moo-ing all over the place! Expat living in China.

      NuttyZA - 2011-06-17 11:14

      So if I start calling you My China, that would be cool :)

  • Tj - 2011-06-17 06:41

    This is not good.

      NuttyZA - 2011-06-17 11:14


  • Madoqua - 2011-06-17 07:08

    Another branch of the mad scientist tree bearing its frankengene fruits. I just wish we would view all gmo's with the same amount of scepticism and caution as displayed in the comments posted.

  • Spoofed - 2011-06-17 09:02

    This is sick

      shmangle - 2011-06-17 10:03

      Because your moral compass, which is actually nothing more than years of brainwashing, tells you so, hey?

      NuttyZA - 2011-06-17 11:17

      Why??? Bet you have no problem eating bovine muscle tissue after it's skin has been peeled from it's body and most (but by no means all) the blood has been drained from it's body!

      Spoofed - 2011-06-17 12:17

      My moral compass is just fine thank you very much and yes i have no problem eating meat. i just think it's sick that's all. you don't like my opinion.. shame for you. see if i care

      NuttyZA - 2011-06-17 12:44

      Spoofed... explain what exactly is sick about it? Don't you drink cows milk normally? And if Cow's milk can be engineered to be more like Human milk what exactly is the problem??? We know that Human Milk is far far healthier for humans than cows milk!

      shmangle - 2011-06-17 14:52

      Me thinks Spoofed is one of those people who thinks they're thinking, when they're actually just re-arranging their own prejudices. "I think it's sick, I can't provide a decent argument to back it up, but I'm entitled to my opinion". It's pure reaction (prejudice), no thought process interjected in there anywhere.

      Spoofed - 2011-06-17 15:15

      I think it's sick because of all the experiments that would have been done to get this result. and oh boy am i going to be slammed now because I said i don't have a problem eating meat. =p

  • Olavin - 2011-06-17 11:46

    I just hope they label it accordingly, unlike other GM products.

  • Bernardette Fields - 2011-06-18 16:23

    Human milk for human babies!! Genetically modified milk will never be as healthy as the real thing, or a good alternative to it. Instead of bringing out alternatives to breastfeeding encourage mothers and give them the support they need to successfully breastfeed. Is that so much to ask?!

      Alan hat - 2011-06-19 16:55

      Humans are amazing - normal nuzzling, kissing etc picks up enough pathogens that the APPROPRIATE antibodies are produced in the milk. (Human milk is 60% antibodies). How is this going to be arranged in farmed cows?

  • evertpbotha - 2011-09-12 18:48

    Can't wait for the day cows can carry babies to term...

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