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Cloned cows are engineered for faster cheese production

(Monday, Jan. 27, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Andrew Pollack, NY Times: Scientists in New Zealand are reporting that they have created such cows, animals that produce milk with higher than normal levels of protein, which would speed the process of making cheese.

Cows have previously been genetically engineered to produce proteins for use as pharmaceuticals in their milk. But this is the first time the food properties of the milk have been genetically engineered, according to the journal Nature Biotechnology, which will publish a paper on the work in its February issue.

The researchers, led by Götz Laible at AgResearch, a government-owned research company, put extra copies of the genes for two milk proteins — beta-casein and kappa-casein — into cow cells in the laboratory. They then created cow embryos from those cells using cloning. Eleven cows were born, and nine produced milk with 8 percent to 20 percent more beta-casein and twice as much kappa-casein as controls.

"It could be a very cool thing, especially if you like pizza," said Robert J. Wall, an expert on genetically engineered cattle at the Department of Agriculture in Beltsville, Md. But Dr. Wall, who was not involved in the work, said the Agriculture Department's own surveys had detected mixed reactions on such cows from the dairy industry.

"One year they will say, `Please increase the protein content in the milk so I can make cheese more efficiently,' " he said. "The next year they'll say, `We have a sort of deficit in butter, so make fat at a high concentration.' "

Cheese made from genetically engineered cows is not expected in groceries any time soon. The Food and Drug Administration has asked that milk or meat from cloned animals not be sold while it develops a policy on such products.

But even if products from cloned animals are allowed, a separate review of food from genetically engineered animals would be required. Testing would have to be done to make sure the genetic engineering had not produced any unexpected changes in the milk.