By Will Stewart
Scientists are genetically engineering goats to produce the same milk as a human mother.
They claim the breakthrough will allow babies whose mothers can’t feed them to receive all the goodness of breast milk.
The revelations follow research by scientists in Russia and Belarus in which male mice were implanted with human genes.
‘This led to surprising amounts of lactoferrin being produced in their female offspring – 160grams per litre of milk,’ said the project’s chief, Dr Elena Sadchikova.
Researchers then switched to goats to obtain much larger quantities of lactoferrin.
Now 90 females sired by GM male goats are being raised on a secret farm outside Moscow.
‘The new programme will be aimed at producing milk with the human protein, as well as making medicines from it,’ said Dr Pyotr Vitsyaz, of the Belarussian National Academy of Sciences.
Igor Goldman, head of the transgenebank at the Russian Academy of Science, said: ‘Human lactoferrin is a natural antibiotic, and it provides babies who don’t have their own developed immune system.’
He dismissed complaints about genetic engineering. ‘In this case, genetically modified milk is a drug, not a food.
‘I am personally concerned about GM products. You never know how they would affect your body. But with drugs it’s different.’
‘Protein in this form is the best drug invented by God.’
Dr Goldman said the ‘ transgenetic’ milk could be drunk by adults as well as children.
Two years ago GM rice crops containing human genes were approved for commercial production in America.
The rice was altered to produce human proteins found in breast milk which could then be used in drinks, desserts and muesli bars.
That came ten years after scientists made a major breakthrough by inserting copies of genes from flounder fish into tomatoes to help them withstand frost.