Scientists Genetically Modify Cows to Produce 'Human' Milk

Scientists have introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows to produce milk with the same properties as human breast milk, The Telegraph reports.

The scientists behind the research have modified cow milk in an attempt to provide an alternative to human breast milk and baby formula, as human milk contains key nutrients that can reduce infections and strengthen the immune system.

While the dairy product is likely to receive backlash from opposers of genetically modified foods, scientists such as Prof. Ning Li,  who led the research and is director of the State Key Laboratories for AgroBiotechnology at the China Agricultural University, believes it will be safe to drink.

"The milk tastes stronger than normal milk," Li told The Telegraph. "We aim to commercialize some research in this area in coming three years. For the 'human-like milk,' 10 years or maybe more time will be required to finally pour this enhanced milk into the consumer's cup."

Using cloning technology, scientists brought human genes into the DNA of Holstein dairy cows before genetically-modified embryos were implanted into surrogate cows.

During their research, scientists created cows that produced milk with a human protein called lysozyme, an antimicrobial protein naturally found in human breast milk. They were also able to create cows with lactoferrin and alpha-lactalbumin, other human milk proteins that boost the immune system.

The research scientists claim they have boosted milk fat content by 20 percent and have changed the levels of milk solids to make it closer to the composition of human milk, carrying the same immune-boosting qualities.

"Our study describes transgenic cattle whose milk offers the similar nutritional benefits as human milk,"  Li wrote in the "Public Library of Science One," a peer-reviewed science journal. "The modified bovine milk is a possible substitute for human milk. It fulfilled the conception of humanizing the bovine milk."

There are opponents to genetically modified foods, however, who feel more research should be done before it can be considered safe.

"There is a question about whether milk from these cows is going to be safe from humans and it is really hard to tell that unless you do large clinical trials like you would a drug," Helen Wallace, director of biotechnology monitoring the group GeneWatch U.K. told The Telegraph. "So there will be uncertainty about whether it could be harmful to some people."

Read more on genetically-modified cow milk from The Telegraph.