Gene-modified cow makes milk rich in protein, study finds

October 2, 2012

Transcows of the future? (Credit: Alex E. Proimos/Flickr)

Scientists have altered the genes of a dairy cow to produce milk that’s rich in a protein used in numerous food products and lacking in a component that causes allergies in humans.

Using a process called RNA-interference that turns certain genes on or off, scientists from New Zealand produced a cow whose milk had increased casein, a protein used to make cheese and other foods, and almost no beta-lactoglobulin, a component in milk whey protein that causes allergies, Bloomberg reports.

The study can be seen as a proof-of-concept that tinkering with nutritional content genetically is possible, said William Hallman, director of the food policy institute at Rutgers University.

Aside from the hypoallergenic qualities, the genetically modified cow’s milk may also be valuable for its higher content of casein. The milk protein is used in a range of food products, including cheese, thickening agents in soups, salad dressings and whipped toppings. It’s also used in adhesives, cosmetics and some pharmaceuticals, Hallman said. “In terms of dairy economics, casein is the most profitable part of the milk,” he said.

Tests now need to be done to see whether removing BLG really does help those with allergies and whether the genetic change harms the animal, according to the paper, written by researchers from New Zealand’s AgResearch, a government-owned research institute, and the University of Waikato, both based in Hamilton, New Zealand.

Curiously, no mention in this Bloomberg article or the PNAS paper of tests to see if it harms people. — Ed.