AUCKLAND, Feb 8, 1999 (Agence France Presse)
- A New Zealand government research project
is planning to put human genes into cows so that their milk is more
like human breast milk, a scientist confirmed Monday.
The proposal has outraged the Green Party here which called for
public debate on the proposition.
Agresearch, the government's biggest research institute at Ruakura,
south of here, is running the project which scientist Phil
L'Huillier said was a world first.
"We think there are a lot of opportunities in the area and
internationally there are a number of companies using goats and
sheep for the production of drugs. No one is doing anything like
this," he said.
Agresearch plans three genetic modifications, two of them designed
to alter the protein content and composition of the cows' milk.
Cattle carrying a "myeline basic protein" would secrete it in their
milk, from which it could be used in the treatment of multiple
L'Huillier said the cattle would be housed in an area at Ruakura
research centre near Hamilton, fully enclosed with double two metre
(six foot) perimeter fences.
Management procedures would reduce the possibility of escape or
release by accident or sabotage.
The first two or three years will be spent putting transgenic
embryos into cows and breeding from them to produce transgenic
calves which will in turn breed to produce herds of up to 30
animals for milking.
L'Huillier said trials would take five years and it would be at
least 10 years before the project could be used for commercial
The research institute has applied to the government's
environmental watchdog, the Environmental Risk Management Authority
(Erma) for approval for the project, and public submissions on the
issue will be sought.
But Green Party co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons called for a
wide-ranging probe of the public's wishes in such transgenic
She said it was outrageous that taxpayer money was being used for
Fitzsimons said the ethics of the issue needed to be discussed.
"There is no plan for any official debate about the ethics of this
even though putting human DNA into cows is a highly contentious
act," she said.
An application still being considered by Erma -- for sheep with
human genetic coding to produce a milk to be used in
pharmaceuticals -- late last year drew opposition from Erma's own
indigenous Maori advisory committee over the concept of mixing
human and animal genetic codes.
It said manipulation of the genes that made up humans could clearly
be seen by Maori as interference with the basic structure of
relationships between generations and species -- central to
practical and spiritual aspects of Maori life.