Transgenic Dairy Cattle: Genetic Engineering on a Large Scale

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Amid the explosion of fundamental knowledge generated from transgenic animal models, a small group of scientists has been producing transgenic livestock with goals of improving animal production efficiency and generating new products. The ability to modify mammary-specific genes provides an opportunity to pursue several distinctly different avenues of research. The objective of the emerging gene "pharming" industry is to produce pharmaceuticals for treat-ing human diseases. It is argued that mammary glands are an ideal site for producing complex bioactive proteins that can be cost effectively harvested and purified. Consequently, during the past decade, approximately a dozen companies have been created to capture the US market for pharmaceuticals produced from transgenic bioreactors estimated at $3 billion annually. Several products produced in this way are now in human clinical trials. Another research direction, which has been widely discussed but has received less attention in the laboratory, is genetic engineering of the bovine mammary gland to alter the composition of milk destined for human consumption. Proposals include increasing or altering endogenous proteins, decreasing fat, and altering milk composition to resemble that of human milk. Initial studies using transgenic mice to investigate the feasibility of enhancing manufacturing properties of milk have been encouraging. The potential profitability of gene "pharming" seems clear, as do the benefits of transgenic cows producing milk that has been optimized for food products. To take full advantage of enhanced milk, it may be desirable to restructure the method by which dairy producers are compensated. However, the cost of producing functional transgenic cattle will remain a severe limitation to realizing the potential of transgenic cattle until inefficiencies of transgenic technology are overcome. These inefficiencies include low rates of gene integration, poor embryo survival, and unpredictable transgene behavior.

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Journal of Dairy Science

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