World's First Genetically Modified Cow to Produce Low-Lactose Milk

Calf and cow

Scientists at the Inner Mongolia Agricultural University of Life Sciences, Biological Manufacturing Key Laboratory in north China say that they have successfully bred the world’s first genetically modified calf able to produce low-lactose milk within two years.

Named “Lakes,” the calf was born on April 24th after the research team used extracted fetus fibroblasts taken from a Holstein cow who was 45 days pregnant. The team then genetically engineered the fetus by transplanting a lactose dissolution enzyme into the cell of the unborn calf. The fetus was then transplanted into the womb of a cow in July where it completed a successful 9-month gestation period. Two other fetuses in the experiment died.

The enzyme, which can dissolve lactose—the sugar in dairy products that causes digestive distress—will theoretically affect the lactose production in the GMO cow’s milk, potentially creating a more digestible dairy product. This is especially pertinent to Asian cultures where lactose intolerance is considerably common (as much as 60 percent of the Chinese population is believed to be lactose intolerant).

This is not the first genetically modified cow to be produced in China. Last year, researchers announced they had modified a herd of cows to produce a milk with more similarities to human breast milk than cows milk, so it could be used in place of or in conjunction with breastfeeding. It was also intended for the adult population—Chinese emperors and empresses also reportedly drank human milk throughout their entire lives. And with the number of lactose intolerant Chinese, milk alternatives are a buzzing category.

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Image: Shan213

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites and, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better.