GM cow: low allergy milk, but no tail
Tuesday 2 Oct 2012 5:24 p.m.
By Ingrid Hipkiss
New Zealand scientists have created a new kind of milk – one that doesn't trigger allergies.
It comes from a genetically modified cow named Daisy, and her creators are hailing it as a scientific breakthrough. But opponents of GM say it's no more than a macabre experiment.
Scientists at AgResearch tried for six years to create a cow like Daisy. The eureka moment came when they milked her in April.
“We were very excited seeing the result,” says Dr Stefan Wagner.
What scientists wanted was a cow that produced milk that could be drunk by the one in 50 people, mostly infants, who are allergic to milk. Their aim was to reduce a protein, called BLG, that triggered the allergy. What they got was even better.
“We could actually not see any of the protein,” says Dr Wagner.
But anti-GM lobbyists are alarmed – not least because Daisy was born without a tail, and her creators aren't sure why.
“They've proved it in theory, but as I say, at what cost?” says Jon Carapiet, spokesman for GE Free New Zealand. “The animal's got no tail. What else the genetic engineering and cloning processes have done to it, we don't know.”
That's because Daisy was created in a lab, cloned in part using man-made material. It's far from a natural process, and out of 100 embryos, she was the only survivor.
“The efficiencies are always relatively low,” says Dr Wagner. “A lot of pregnancies are lost in the early stages of gestation.”
“Many animals would have died or suffered severe damage, and they've ended up with one calf with no tail, and they got a cup of milk out of it,” says Mr Carapiet.
And while that cup may be full of potential, the scientists are keenly aware that GM is a controversial concept. It will take years, decades even, before the milk is approved for human consumption.
Security around the project is so tight 3 News cameras weren’t allowed in to film Daisy. She'll spend her life contained behind a double perimeter fence, and New Zealand's GM rules mean it's likely her milk will never leave the lab either.