What future genes have in store for us?

Belarus reporter attended an operation meant to produce the first transgenic goat in the CIS
On a usual day in November a small group of Belarusian and Russian scientists caused a real sensation at a farm near the city of Zhodino. For the first time a human gene was implanted in a she-goat! There is a 2% chance that it will give birth to transgenic goatlings that will be able to produce milk with human medical proteins. Belarus correspondent was present throughout the operation.

…The lamp lights strained faces of scientists of the Animal Breeding Institute of Belarus National Science Academy and Gene Biology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Patient Karina is under anaesthetic on the surgical table. It is a celebrity of a kind already. It is it that a human DNA is being implanted in. The situation in the operating-room resembles American series “Ambulance”.

“Saline. Syringe. Needle”, says Igor Goldman, Russian head of the project, chief of the Transgenosis Laboratory of Gene Biology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “Here goes the final seam. That seems to be all. We will wait for an offspring for five months…”

The specialists plan to use the same methods to operate on around one hundred artiodactyles this and next year. Scientists expect some of them to give birth to wonder-goats. Essentially, the project is based on an idea to produce lactoferrin, which is part of woman milk and will be part of transgenic goat’s. The protein protects babies from various viral and bacteriological infections. But the price is enormous — $2400 per gramme! How lactoferrin is used? It can be used to produce rare medications to increase human immunity, eye drops. You might want to ask: why goats? That’s simple. Their milk (unlike cow milk) does not produce allergic reactions and lactoferrin is easier to separate. Besides, goats are immune to many diseases.

The Russian scientists have perfected the routine of such operations. They have already implanted human genes in more than one hundred mice (Sergei Kadulin of the Gene Biology Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences has raised 82 transgenic mice). But goats are another matter. It seems a trifle: extract a goat ovule and insert a human DNA in it. Then put the combined ovule into another goat. If the gene settles down, the goat will give birth to a transgenic goat. However…

“Alas, only 1–2% of the newborn goatlings will be transgenic ones”, says Igor Lvovich. “Certainly, sooner or later we will get our wonder-goats. It is more important now to reach the commercial level. We plan to make a transgenic flock and start producing highly effective and biologically safe medications”.

The situation is complicated by the fact that neither Russia nor Belarus produce goats on commercial basis. Scientists have to buy goats from individuals. The technology to produce unique goats is made from scratch.
The scientists are surprised by the talks about mutant animals allegedly made near Zhodino. “Normal goats are born, their milk will have lactoferrin, that’s all”, shrugs Alexander Budevich, head of the Reproduction and Agricultural Animals Genetic Engineering Lab of the Animal Breeding Institute under the National Science Academy. “The same way we will be able to produce other genes. For example, prourokinase. It instantly dissolves blood clots and can help people avoid heart attack”.
“Yes, we’ve made a breakthrough in genetic engineering”, continues Igor Goldman. “The world is tremendously interested in lactoferrin! People abroad are ready to pay $1.5 million for a transgenic goat. But who would sell a chicken that brings gold eggs?”

Scientists estimate the project will earn $6 billion a year: fourth generation medications, healing ointments, cosmetics. Americans even suggest processing meat with lactoferrin. In this case microorganisms in beef or veal will not multiply and the meat will stay fresh without deep freezing for a month.

By the way, foreigners offered enticing contracts to create transgenic animals, but the professor turned them down. “The project was started thanks to one person — Alexander Lukashenko”, says Igor Lvovich. “Three days after I sent a letter suggesting creating a transgenic goat, I was invited to the National Science Academy. And things got in motion! I have a debt to my country, the country my kin comes from. Together with Belarusian friends I intend to see the project to the end”.

by Alexander Tumilov
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