Medical inspiration often comes from strange places. And this plan from University of California, Davis researchers to fight diarrhea with milk from transgenic goats is no exception. Professor James Murray developed the technology, which has been kicking around at Davis for decades. But opposition to transgenic animals in the U.S. (see the transgenic salmon controversy) recently prompted Murray to ship transgenic goat semen to Brazil, where transgenic research is considered acceptable.
The herd will be established by crossing the animals at UC Davis
with local goats adapted to tropical conditions…Although diarrhea isn’t of much concern in the U.S., it’s precisely
the kind of challenge that Brazilian scientists need to justify growing
investments in R&D. Writing in the journal Nature
last year, Luiz Castro, a secretary with the Ministry of Science and
Technology, noted that a major problem facing genetics research in Brazil is “the perception that the gene revolution has failed to reach
the problems of the poor.”
The transgenic goats, which have been engineered to express large amounts of lysozyme (a protein found in human tears, saliva and milk that destroys bacteria cell walls), will be valuable in Brazil–in poor regions of the country, infant mortality from electrolyte-draining diarrhea is common. And the country is reportedly excited to finance the technology. In the U.S., the project barely survived on a $400,000 grant from the USDA intended to evaluate the safety of transgenic animals.
Now that transgenic goat semen has arrived in Brazil, diarrhea-fighting milk could make it into trials with schoolchildren in the next two years. After that, the milk could be exported to other locations in Latin America and Africa.
Back in the U.S., we’re still debating the merits of genetically engineered salmon for human consumption. Diarrhea-fighting goat milk may have to wait a little longer.