The people at A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Texas Agrilife Research have a dream. They envision people in impoverished countries going out to milk their goat and from the milk get a vaccine for malaria and possibly other diseases as well, or perhaps obtaining important drugs. It is a good idea because goats are hardy animals that can thrive in impoverished areas. Their milk provides good nutrition, and now perhaps can provide much more. This is the latest advance in transgenic research.
What is Pharming?
The term pharming was adopted to mean the production of human drugs in farm animals. This is not new research. On the contrary, research on transgenic animals began in the 1980s. The first product was Humulin, which is human insulin produced by bacteria and it was produced in 1982. There are several human gene products that have been studied, including Factor IX, insulin, growth hormone, a-1-antitrypsin, antithrombin III and tissue plasminogen activator. The last two were studied in the goat.
How does it work?
The goat’s genes relating to milk production are manipulated so that they produce the malaria antigen, through the creation of what is called a transgenic goat.
A simplified explanation is that through genetic manipulation, the DNA is cut removing the sequence that is of interest and then this sequence is joined with a vector, in order to transfer it to another organism. There are actually several techniques that are employed to accomplish the genetic transfer. One older method uses DNA microinjection of fertilized eggs, while a newer method uses whole nuclear transfer.
This subject is a hotbed of controversy. There are people on both sides of the issue and both sides are passionate about their views. The concern that people feel over genetic manipulation and the dangers that it poses, has even been translated onto the silver screen in movies like Resident Evil series and Gattaca, among many others.
There are many who are against transgenic work in both animals and crops. People worry that we are going too far and we do not understand the consequences of genetic manipulation. Also, that we do not and cannot fully understand what will be the result of this manipulation.
Many people are against genetic manipulation of crops and animals, thus the Organic movement was born. People are willing to pay extra to buy vegetables and animals that are free of drugs and genetic manipulation.
On the other hand, this and similar research can help millions in impoverished areas that suffer from disease, such as malaria and cannot afford vaccinations. This extends to other drugs that can be produced in animals, including goats. In the future, whether entire human organs can successfully be grown in animals is yet to be proven. How many people could be saved?
Genetic manipulation of crops has led to better and higher production rates, because these crops have been genetically modified to have better resistance to pests and diseases. Higher yields translate into more food available for people who are starving.