September 28, 2012
As if genetically altered salmon, genetically modified babies, and GMO crops aren’t science fiction enough for you—soon drug makers will be using genetically modified camels in their pharmaceuticals. Yes, you read that right—camels. According to the Science and Development Network, the camels will be used to make genetically modified milk, which will then be processed into cheaper drugs.
Genetically Modified Camels for Pharmaceutical GM Milk – What?
The drugs from these laboratory-created camels will include insulin and clotting factors for hemophilia. They will be used, at least initially, in the arid regions of the Middle East and North Africa, from which the camels originally came. Apparently, that’s why camels are being used instead of cattle, because of their adjustment to the extreme climates.
“Cows would be better producers of transgenic protein as they produce more milk,” said Serge Muyldermans of the Laboratory of Cellular and Molecular Immunology at Vrje University Brussel in Belgium. “But as camels can be kept in arid areas and are used to living under harsh conditions, they might be better suited to the Middle East.”
Evidently, other scientists prefer genetically modified cows as well. In another recent creation unleashed by scientists, human genes have successfully been inserted into genetically modified cows that now allow them to produce ‘human’ milk — milk that has the very same properties as human breast milk. What is the world coming to?
But the researchers prefer genetically modified camels since the animals are highly resistant to local disease and easier to maintain in the area. They are more efficient in converting food into body mass when compared with cattle as well.
So, how are the camels being modified? Initial reports aren’t clear. The scientists do say, however, that the camel cells will be modified with “foreign DNA” and then implanted into full-grown camels as embryos. The group plans on transplanting the embryos into the surrogate mothers later this year, though they aren’t sure when the first GM babies will be born.
The calving rate for cloned embryos is only 5%. This means that for every 100 cloned embryos implanted, only five are carried to term and delivered. “The rate gets even smaller when transgenic cells are used,” said Nisar Wani, head of the Reproductive Biology Laboratory at Dubai’s Camel Reproduction Center.
The gestation period for a camel is about 13 to 14 months. So in the “best” case scenario, the first genetically modified camels won’t be born until early 2014. Then the world would have to wait for their milk production and the medications to be developed, pushing the actual GM camel-derived pharmaceuticals back another year or so. Even still, the thought of these sort of “advances” in the works is frightening.
At what point does science cross an ethical line? Haven’t we established that genetically modifying foods are dangerous? How could genetically modifying animals and then turning those animals into drugs be any better?
This article first appeared at NaturalSociety, daily covering emerging GM concerns.