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Transgenic cows have been created. They produce insulin in milk

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New methods of genetic manipulation have allowed American and Brazilian scientists to create cows that produce insulin in their milk. A new way of producing the hormone could help millions of diabetics around the world.

The achievement of scientists from the University of Illinois in Urbana and Champaign (USA) and the University of São Paulo (Brazil) may revolutionize access to insulin for people with diabetes in the near future. Biotechnologists managed to stimulate the production of this hormone in the mammary glands of cows. – Mother nature designed the mammary glands as a real protein-producing factory. We can use this system to produce a protein that will help hundreds of millions of people around the world, said Professor Matt Wheeler, author of the work published in the Biotechnology Journal.

A transgenic cow has been created

What did the research look like? Into ten cow embryos, researchers introduced a DNA fragment encoding proinsulin – a molecule from which insulin is later produced. Modern methods of genetic engineering have made it possible to place new DNA in cells so precisely that it is activated in the mammary glands of animals. The embryos were implanted in the uteruses of normal cows and one transgenic Holstein calf was born.

– In the past, we simply introduced DNA into cells with the hope that it would be active where we wanted it to be. Now we can do it much more strategically. By creating a DNA construct specific for mammary tissue, we have ensured that there is no human insulin in the blood or other tissues of the cow. At the same time, we take advantage of the glands' ability to produce large amounts of proteins – explained the biotechnologist.

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Once the cow reached sexual maturity, the team attempted to impregnate her using standard artificial insemination techniques, but were unsuccessful. So the researchers induced lactation in the cow with the help of hormones. Although the amount of milk in this case is smaller, they detected proinsulin in it and, surprisingly, insulin in the amount of several grams per liter. Even 1 gram of insulin per liter would represent a huge amount of the hormone, since one animal produces 40 to 50 liters of milk per day. Meanwhile, a single typical dose of insulin for humans is 0.0347 milligrams. – This means that each gram is enough for 28,818 doses of insulin – noted Prof. Wheeler. Researchers now want to clone a transgenic cow. They also hope to be successful in achieving pregnancies and producing more milk. They also want to obtain transgenic bulls, which could create further generations of insulin-producing animals.

DiabetesMaria Samczuk, Adam Ziemienowicz/PAP

A cure for diabetes?

Researchers assure that even a small herd will outperform currently used methods, such as the use of transgenic yeast or bacteria. There will also be no need for such complex biotechnology plants. It is enough to provide cows with conditions similar to those required in typical dairy production. Naturally, you will need a system to collect and purify the insulin. – I see a future in which a herd of a hundred cows, similar to a typical dairy herd in Illinois or Wisconsin, will produce insulin needed for the entire country. And a larger herd could feed the entire world for an entire year, Wheeler said.

PAP, Biotechnology Journal

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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