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Cory Doctorow, of BoingBoing complains about bad science, reporting GM Chinese cows express milk with some proteins found in human milk, UK press reports "OMG! Cows give breast milk!"  GM is a common European abbreviation for genetically modified.

Scientists at the China Agricultural University, have produced 17 genetically modified cows which produce milk they assert is chemically indistinquishable from human breast milk in the ways measured. (See article below fold.)  The look forward to not only improving human nutrition, but also breeding future cows to produce pharmeuceticals.  But this doesn't convince Cory Doctorow.

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 The researchers claim that this milk would be a suitable substitute for human breast milk, but do not cite any studies or data to directly support this claim.

The reporting on this in the UK press is textbook bad science. Writing in April, the Telegraph's science reporter Richard Gray describes the cows as "physically identical" to non-transgenic cows (presumably he thinks that DNA exists solely in the realm of pure maths (sic) or possibly in the astral plane). He also credulously repeats the claim that because this milk contains proteins found in human breast milk, it will be a suitable substitute, and implies that there is some benefit known to arise from drinking breast milk into adulthood.

At this point, I don't know what to think but he has my attention. What an amazing idea that consumers could be put on a new kind of diet, with something as ubiquitous as milk, perhaps, without some people even knowing about it.

Photobucket
Doctorow Found this 'Green Cow from Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from nuskyn's photostream

In Great Britain, Rupert Murdoch is widely viewed as the "Donald Trump" of global media, after he bought Sky News in what many suspect, or allege is a right-wing effort to slant the news. Doctorow points to Sky's reporting as the worst.

Doctorow also points out that the Beiging correspondent who wrote the original news article, as if it were a public relations, or marketing campaing for the vitures of genetic modification interviewed dairy workers on the farm to get the quote that "It's better for you because it's genetically modified."  

An article by-lined "Holly Williams, Beijing correspondent" describes the cows' milk as "human breast milk" (the leap from "cow's milk with some proteins found in human milk" to "human milk" being rather a large one). Like the Telegraph, the Sky report is mostly a critique of EU rules and conventions on GM food, and has the thinly veiled subtext of "Our Eurocrat lords and lefty loonies are holding back nutrition."

Yikes, it sounds as if our European friends are challenged by the same kind of right-wing attacks on sensible food regulation as "lefty loonies" holding back progress delivered by free market capitalism, by imposing authoritarian regulations.

Doctorow closes by noting that neither the Telegraph, or other european newspapers, or the Beijing newspaper they used as a source quoted, or linked to the original scientific paper, so I do not want to be equally remiss.  

strong>Characterization of Bioactive Recombinant Human Lysozyme Expressed in Milk of Cloned Transgenic Cattle (Plos One)

Bin Yang1, Jianwu Wang1, Bo Tang2, Yufang Liu1, Chengdong Guo1, Penghua Yang1, Tian Yu1, Rong Li2, Jianmin Zhao2, Lei Zhang2, Yunping Dai1, Ning Li1*
1 State Key Laboratory for Agrobiotechnology, China Agricultural University, Beijing, People's Republic of China, 2 Beijing GenProtein Biotechnology Company, Beijing, People's Republic of China, published Characterization of Bioactive Recombinant Human Lysozyme Expressed in Milk of Cloned Transgenic Cattle

From their abstract:

There is great potential for using transgenic technology to improve the quality of cow milk and to produce biopharmaceuticals within the mammary gland. Lysozyme, a bactericidal protein that protects human infants from microbial infections, is highly expressed in human milk but is found in only trace amounts in cow milk.

We have produced 17 healthy cloned cattle expressing recombinant human lysozyme using somatic cell nuclear transfer. In this study, we just focus on four transgenic cattle which were natural lactation. The expression level of the recombinant lysozyme was up to 25.96 mg/L, as measured by radioimmunoassay. ... The gross composition of transgenic and non-transgenic milk, including levels of lactose, total protein, total fat, and total solids were not found significant differences.

Thus, our study not only describes transgenic cattle whose milk offers the similar nutritional benefits as human milk but also reports techniques that could be further refined for production of active human lysozyme on a large scale.

And, from their paper:

There is great potential for using transgenic technology to improve the quality of cow milk and to produce biopharmaceuticals within the mammary gland. Lysozyme, a bactericidal protein that protects human infants from microbial infections, is highly expressed in human milk but is found in only trace amounts in cow milk.

 The gross composition of transgenic and non-transgenic milk, including levels of lactose, total protein, total fat, and total solids were not found significant differences.

Cory Doctorow asks the right questions, and I agree with his concerns that more research be done on possible health impacts of humans drinking transgencic "breast milk" through-out our whole adult lifetimes, before we convert the worlds diary industry to these new, and "improved" cows.  

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Comment Preferences

  •  Don't humans already produce human breast milk? (9+ / 0-)

    Wouldn't it have been easier for the chinese to just start factory farming humans? I bet it would have been cheeper. They already force prisoners to mine gold online for the guards so it's not like they give a fuck about the human rights issues.

    This comment may not be reproduced or excerpted on other sites without my express written permission.

    by psilocynic on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 02:26:54 PM PDT

  •  When I glanced at this (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TomP, Nulwee, Wee Mama, HoundDog, Roadbed Guy

    I thought it was about transgender cows.  This makes more sense.

    "Intolerance is something which belongs to the religions we have rejected." - J.J. Rousseau -6.38, -4.15

    by James Allen on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 02:29:13 PM PDT

    •  There is no such thing. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      James Allen, TomP, Wee Mama, HoundDog

      Cows are all female; the males are bulls.

      I'm in the I-fucking-love-this-guy wing of the Democratic Party!

      by doc2 on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 02:35:03 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  that can be true (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        TomP, Wee Mama, HoundDog

        and yet when I glance at "Transgenic Cows" my brain might tell me it read "Transgender Cows".

        "Intolerance is something which belongs to the religions we have rejected." - J.J. Rousseau -6.38, -4.15

        by James Allen on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 02:36:45 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Well, I'm not sure if these traditional (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        emmasnacker, buddabelly

        constrainst still apply to transgenic cows doc2.  

        In this modern times, I don't see why we couldn't have transgender, transgenic cows soon.

        Or, bulls with milkable breasts.  

        But, of course dairy workers will have to be careful to make sure they hook up the automatic milking machines to the right appendages.

        Or, someone will have to write a new comedy, "A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To the Transgenic Dairy."

        This could give a whole new meaning to the question of "do you take cream, or sugar in you coffee?"

        Oh, dear,  I certainly hope I haven't encouraged folks to start getting silly.  It's only Thursday.  

        The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

        by HoundDog on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 03:15:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  For profit pursuit of GM will wreak havoc (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HoundDog, JeffW

    similar to what the nuclear industry is doing to our planet.

    Blind "Techo-optimism" is behind both of these "industries" and far too many liberals subscribe to this kind of thinking.

    “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe.” – Einstein (1946)

    by Earth Ling on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 02:43:00 PM PDT

    •  I find it really, really difficult to find any (3+ / 0-)

      kind of risk from transgenic milk that comes anywhere close to the risks of nuclear power (and I am a biologist). Speaking as a mother who tried to breast feed both children and could not make enough breast milk for either (they were both 95% for size, I have a AA cup and did while breast feeding, and La Leche League lives in Lala land), I would have been delighted to have access to formula that more closely mimicked human milk. Transgenic milk will never compete with ordinary milk for most purposes, for simple financial reasons.

      I also find it terribly sad that children may go blind because of opposition to golden rice just because golden rice is transgenic.

      Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

      by Wee Mama on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 03:10:31 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Maybe you should write this up Wee Mama. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        I was totally unaware of either one.

        Hey, I'm really glad you showed up.  

        I've been meaning to ask you advice on that meta diary, you encouraged me to write up about letting everyone see hidden comments and changing the name of Trusted Users so we didn't hurt the feelings of the non-Trusted Users.

        I wanted to run a draft by someone, because I took what I thought was a humorous-fun-sarcastic approach to it, and I've never done a meta-dairy.

        So I ran it by Youfraitta deep in some comments, and she was very woried I would upset folks, and get a bad reaction.

        So, I never published it.  

        But if you'd be willing to give it a quick read, I'd appreciate it.  

        My only purpose in making the suggestings was to brainstorm about some ways we might improve things.  I don't want to upset anyone.

        Even, if you are too busy, I understand, I just wanted you to know, I wasn't failing to follow through on your suggestion from laziness, but just caution.

        I could either post it here, or maybe figure out how to mail it too you.

        Or, I get just drop it.  

        Good to see you.

        The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

        by HoundDog on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 03:21:42 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Hi, HoundDog (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          HoundDog

          The golden rice is rice that has had the enzymes to make carotene added, and it can counteract Vitamin A deficiency, one of the leading causes of blindness in the developing world.

          I could take a look at a diary if you like - I'm not sure what the best way to go about that is, though. Can I look at your draft if you send me the link? Otherwise maybe you could paste it into a private message.

          Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

          by Wee Mama on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 03:32:02 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  well said (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Wee Mama

        I think the opposition to all things transgenic is a Luddite position.  The specifics need to be avaluated on the merits.

        Scientific Materialism debunked here

        by wilderness voice on Sat Jun 11, 2011 at 10:24:41 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  asdf (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HoundDog

    I find the whole thing odd.

    Mammalian milk is intended by nature for the young of its own species. Cow milk for cow babies, human milk for human babies. I can't imagine GM human milk from cows is that much more appropriate for general human consumption than regular cow's milk.

    Aside from the appropriateness of the product, I question the safety of the method. I've read that toxins from GM crops are found in human blood. While I'm not familiar enough with these sources to know if they're trustworthy, I'd rather not take the chance with my family's health if there are other options.

    Fire Rick Snyder Weathering Michigan's recessions since the '70s.

    by jennifree2bme on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 03:24:10 PM PDT

    •  Agreed Jennifree2bme, this was the main new (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jennifree2bme

      idea here for me.  

      Doctorow, and you both raise an important questions about whether or not human breast milk for babies, would be good for adults to drink their whole lives.

      The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

      by HoundDog on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 03:28:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  woof, me neither, too. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      jennifree2bme, HoundDog

      Thanks for those links. Always been my position that what we don't know may well hurt us. Or the fetii. Or all. Wonder what's going on with the cows that eat GM soybeans and other altered crops. Is it coming from the milk?
      Thankfully, I drink little cow's milk myself. It gives me the belly ache. I do binge ice cream from time to time. Thankfully, it does not give me the belly ache.

  •  Maybe these cows could become (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HoundDog

    friends with The EnviroPIG

    •  I hadn't seen this enviropig before Roadbed Guy. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Roadbed Guy

      But, who can't love the idea of environmentally friendly pig poop.

      I was going to say these authors were full of ....., but then thought better of it.

      :-)

      The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

      by HoundDog on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 04:10:44 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I haven't see a real life one, either (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        HoundDog

        but it does seem like a rather good idea . . . .  (except that raising billions of pigs at all for the benefit of humans is a damn stupid idea, but that's a bit off topic)

        •  I wonder if can reengineer cows to not produce as (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Roadbed Guy

          much methane in their gas.   Believe it or not, I read somewhere this is a significant source of global warming.

          The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

          by HoundDog on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 07:31:47 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Yes, I've heard that accounts for (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            HoundDog

            as much as 50% of "man-made" methane (although others suggest it's only 10% of that (and there's only a 17% chance of that, bottom line, it's very confusing)).

            Anyways, it's not really the cow's fault, the methane seems to come mostly from the gut biota that help them digest their food.

            Of course, humans also have a rich gut biota (a person consists of more bacterial cells than "human" cells, for example with greater genetic diversity as well . . . ).  Wikipedia summarizes this topic here

            I mention this because it is relevant to your diary insofar as human milk contains different milk oligosaccharides (MOS) - compared to cow milk, for example - and these MOS influence the types of bacteria that colonize the infant's gut .   With potentially profound influences on the infant's health . . . .

            And it is almost certain that these cows still produce cow MOS not human MOS (this seems to be an important endpoint this study failed to evaluate).  So I would argue that their milk is not nearly as identical to human milk as the people who are describing this work are claimng

            •  Excellent point Roadbed Guy. You may be the very (0+ / 0-)

              first person to raise this concern.

              I wonder who we should tell?

              This is the kind of big picture wisdom that our current lack of adequate regulatory oversight lacks.

              Good call.

              The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

              by HoundDog on Sat Jun 11, 2011 at 06:11:19 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  I'm not sure if we need to "tell" anybody (0+ / 0-)

                the experts in the field are aware of this is (for example, about 2 years ago the NIH funded a "special" set of proposals to investigate this type of thing).

                Of course, if the regulators bother to care about their findings or not is an entirely different matter.  The bottom line is that this is most likely something neither you nor I can do anything about (unless you have tons of $$s to compete with the relevant lobbyists, I don't!)

  •  This was front page news in Argentina... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    freesia, bozepravde15

    just a little blurb on the front page with a bigger article inside the paper, but they're watching. Are we? It's hard to tell.

    Personally, this kind of stuff scares me to death. I am all for science, but genetically modified food gives me the willies.

  •  Thanks, HoundDog (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    HoundDog

    I really do hates me some civilization.

    love!

    No peace, no justice. No justice, no peace.

    by Miep on Fri Jun 10, 2011 at 10:53:21 PM PDT

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