Genetically modified cows to produce human breast milk

A team of Chinese scientists are working on engineering cows so they will be able to produce human breast-like milk for sale in China in as little as two years.

A herd of more than 200 cows have been genetically modified so that their milk contains characteristics most similar to human breast milk, according to Li Ning of the China Agricultural University, as reported in the Times of India.

Human milk is obviously critical for newborns, containing vital nutrients essential to immune and central nervous system development. Other mammal milks such as cow, goat, sheep and camel—all consumed by humans for thousands of years—contain nutrients vital to the maturation of their respective offspring, lacking key nutrients for humans. Despite this, the global market for non-human milk continues to grow every year.

The genetically modified milk product would be most similar to human breast milk, which would make it an appealing option to work into rotation for nursing mothers, and for those having trouble nursing. But the researchers say that it’s not just designated for infants; Chinese emperors and empresses were reported to drink human milk over the course of their entire lives, and the market may be ripe for a considerable interest by adults, especially those suffering from lactose intolerance to cow’s milk.

The idea is being met with both praise and criticism. But it’s not the first effort to market human breast milk. An NYU grad student has been making human breast milk cheese, and an ice cream maker in the UK recently sold a human breast milk flavor.

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Photo: Jill Ettinger