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Tools in the 21st Century Tool Box: “Hot Science” on GE Animals

Today’s program at the 7th Transgenic Animal Research Conference in Tahoe, Calif., hit the “hot science”, as one researcher from Germany noted during lunch. The research on genetically engineered (GE) animals will reap huge dividends in societal benefits to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.

I was particularly impressed by the Chinese researchers from State Key Lab of Agrobiotechnology, China Agricultural University, Beijing. In 2001 they began studying six different genes in GE cattle which improve protein production in milk, including production of human lactoferrin, human lysozyme and a human antibody for cancer treatment. But they don’t stop there. Their GE pig research includes the study of four genes which also impact milk protein production.

Even more remarkable, I know you all have heard about the GE goats that produce spider silk proteins, used for body armor, suture material, or anywhere we need an industrial fiber with high strength. These GE goats are alive and well at the University of Wyoming.

Did you know that dragline silk, which is a protein produced by spiders, is the strongest fiber known to man? It is identical to Kevlar, used in bullet-proof vests, except that it has 35 percent elasticity, to Kevlar’s 5 percent. Researchers at the University of Wyoming are working in collaboration with AFMNet to study the attributes of spider silk proteins produced in the milk of GE goats. They discussed the capability to vary the ratio of two proteins that produce films and fibers with different mechanical properties.

Who’s interested? Good Year Tire is interested in this technology for producing tire cords. Eye sutures are another potential application, and the military has continuing needs to protect the armed forces. This is an exciting application with many benefits – indeed the new ‘tailor-to-task’ efforts in research by the University of Wyoming will continue. And the GE goats are so cute – normal and happy.

The scientific presentations are nearly outdone here in Tahoe along with the informal conversations and debate at coffee breaks. We have discussed the fact that this “hot science” on GE animals will not advance without a relevant and workable regulatory process to bring products to consumers. Tomorrow BIO gets the chance to discuss industry’s responsibility toward good stewardship in meeting (and in some cases exceeding) the regulatory requirements.

It all begins with “hot science” on GE animals, building the 21st century tool box. Stay tuned!