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Genetically Modified Cows Produce "Human" Milk

Scientists in China have successfully genetically modified cows to produce “human breastmilk”.

They claim the milk is identical to breastmilk in its nutritional composition, immune benefits and antibacterial qualities. In other words, they’re saying it’s exactly the same stuff. It just happens to come from cows instead of human mamas.

They hope to be selling the stuff in supermarkets within three years. It’s being promoted as a healthier dairy alternative. Not just for babies. For everybody.

Can you imagine drinking “breastmilk” from a cow? Madeline wrote about the possibility of this awhile back, and said for her there was a major ick factor. I have to agree. The whole concept kind of makes me shudder.

Which makes no sense. I don’t think cow’s milk is gross. I drink it nearly every day. I don’t think breastmilk is gross. I nursed my kids for five years. Yet somehow putting the two together and getting breastmilk from cows just seems wrong.

Once we get past that ick factor, though, this could be a huge breakthrough. Imagine if every baby had access to breastmilk as easily as we get access to cow’s milk, just by popping over to the corner store. Instead of making do with formula, parents who can’t breastfeed would be able to provide their infants the same great nutrition breastfed babies get. If this new GM milk really has the same immune benefits as breastmilk, it could be lifesaving for many babies.

It could be a huge breakthrough if it’s real. BoingBoing dispels the hype around this news, saying that the milk isn’t necessarily the same as human milk, even if it expresses similar proteins. As they say:

The researchers claim the milk contains lysozyme (an antimicrobial protein), lactoferrin (a protein involved with the immune system) and alpha-lactalbumin. The researchers claim that this milk would be a suitable substitute for human breast milk, but do not cite any studies or data to directly support this claim.

Let’s pretend for a moment that the claim is totally legit: cows can produce a milk that is identical to human breastmilk. Will consumers accept it? I wonder if, a generation from now, this human-cow hybrid milk will be the new normal, and old-fashioned cow’s milk will have become some niche oddity. The sort of thing that foodies covet in small batches for its novelty. Kind of like breastmilk cheese or ice cream is treated now.

What do you think? Would you ever drink “human” milk from a genetically modified cow? Would you feed it to your kids?

Photo: NickPiggott

 

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