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TITLE:  Iowa Dairy to Focus on Extracting Human Protein from Genetically
        Modified Cows
SOURCE: Knight-Ridder, USA, by Russ Keen, posted by
DATE:   December 13, 2001

------------------ archive: ------------------

Iowa Dairy to Focus on Extracting Human Protein from Genetically Modified 

Imagine running a dairy where none of the milk ends up in restaurants or 
stores as cheese, cream or cartons of milk. Instead, a protein is extracted 
and purified from the milk and used to treat burn patients and people with 
liver and kidney disease.

The milk itself might be suitable for livestock feed, but couldn't be 
consumed by people because it comes from genetically modified cows; their 
meat also would not become human food. Such a dairy is scheduled to begin 
operating in Iowa within the next three years, about 50 miles southeast of 
Sioux Falls. And one might have materialized in South Dakota, said South 
Dakota ag secretary Larry Gabriel, if not for the constitutional amendment 
that restricts non-farmers from investing in South Dakota ag operations. 
The constitutionality of Amendment E is currently under review by federal 
judge Charles Kornmann of Aberdeen after hearing testimony on the issue 
last week.

The protein purified from the milk will be human serum albumin, the main 
protein in human blood. The human serum is already commonly used to treat 
burn victims, heart and kidney patients and people who have lost 
considerable blood. Currently, human blood is the only source of serum 

Getting it from milk would mean a more abundant supply, which could reduce 
the number of weeks a burn victim spends in the hospital waiting to heal, 
Gabriel said. "There is a scarcity of that protein," he said.

There's no shortage now, said Dr. Jon Kaspari, medical director of United 
Blood Services in Fargo, N.D. But that doesn't mean there couldn't be, he 
said. The service collects and distributes human blood and blood products.

Using a milk-derived albumin would eliminate the risk of getting diseases 
such as AIDS from human blood, according to Trans Ova Genetics of Sioux 
Center, Iowa. The company and Genzyme Transgenics of Massachusetts have 
been researching the project for three years, with the goal of developing 
genetically modified cows with the ability to produce pharmaceuticals in 
their milk. The research is taking place at the Genetic Advancement Center 
near Sioux Center in extreme northwest Iowa.

Basically, a dairy bull will be modified with a human gene, and the bull's 
female offspring will produce milk containing human serum albumin. Trans 
Ova says 1,250 cows can produce 20 percent of the worldwide demand for the 
serum. Getting such an operation going means an investment of $70 million 
or more, according to Trans Ova, and it intends to do just that. The 
company says the actual dairy will get off the ground in 2003, and the 
serum should be available on the market by 2005. (For more information, 
visit <A HREF=''TARGET='_blank'></
A>. Founded in 1979, Trans Ova is best known as a leader in embryo 
transplants in livestock.)

The dairy will be in Iowa, where lawmakers recently approved legislation 
allowing for the development of industries that produce pharmaceuticals 
from animals. The legislation positions Iowa to become the "delivery system 
for genetic advancements in animal agriculture," Trans Ova President David 
Faber said in a news release.

Genetic modification of animals is all very scary, Gabriel said, and raises 
moral questions. "But are we sure we don't want to do it?" he asked. That's 
because of the potential benefits to human well-being; still, modifications 
need to be made very carefully and conscientiously, Gabriel said.

Dr. Kaspari of United Blood Services said he does not know enough about 
Trans Ova's specific plans to make a judgment. But, as a rule, it is 
morally acceptable to tinker with genetics if the results help cure 
diseases, he said. "I don`t think that crosses the line. Some good can come 
of it. But I hope it stops before it goes any further. if we start 
genetically altering a person for convenience, that is wrong. That crosses 
the line." Family dairy farmer Donna Sharp of rural Bath, an official 
spokeswoman for some dairy organizations, said she also has no problem with 
altering animals if it helps cure or prevent chronic disease. The American 
Dairy Association, the Midwest Dairy Association and the dairy checkoff-
dollars program have no official opinion on genetic modifications, Sharp 
said. "Personally, I would certainly have no qualms if it helps the medical 
industry in the prevention of disease," she said. Her opinion stems partly 
from the experience of having a daughter who has had type 1 diabetes for 20 
years, she said.

Gabriel said the ag industry will have to make sure genetically altered 
animals are kept out of the food chain. That`s true as well for whatever 
animals the Connecticut company Hematech might use to produce vaccines.

Hematech announced in October it will move its research operations, 
currently in Kansas, to Sioux Falls. The company intends to use the blood 
of genetically modified cattle to produce antibodies to fight human 
diseases -- vaccine antibodies found now only in human blood. Like Trans 
Ova, Hematech will introduce human genes into cattle, and Trans Ova's 
center in Sioux Center will assist Hematech in these modifications. For 
more information, go to

Hematech announced it would like to operate 20 to 30 farms in South Dakota, 
with 100 to 500 head of cattle on each. Production could reach $300 million 
worth of antibodies per farm. But the establishment of these farms hinges 
on the outcome of the Amendment E issue.

Right or wrong or somewhere in between, it appears genetic engineering will 
play an increasingly larger role in the ag economy and perhaps in the 
survival of rural South Dakota, Gabriel said. "Change is coming very, very 
fast. (...) We will see as much change in the next two years as we have in 
the past 20."



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