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China's Genetically Modified Cows Could Stop TB

Mar 04, 2015 04:30 PM EST
(Photo : Pixabay)

China is introducing a new wave of genetically modified (GM) cows. And we're talking 'mad-scientist' GMOs here - animals that boast genetic traits utterly impossible to create in nature. How could that ever be a good thing? Well, new research has revealed it can be beneficial in certain ways, with these latest cows promising to help the cattle industry withstand a deadly pandemic of Bovine Tuberculosis (B-TB).

That's at least according to a study recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which details how early testing with a new generation of GM cows has revealed that modified herds can completely resist low levels of Mycobacterium bovis infection - the cause of B-TB.

B-TB has been a problem for the cattle industry for a long time now, with the debilitating disease affecting well over 26,000 cattle in the United Kingdom alone in 2013, according to BBC News. In an effort to stop the epidemic in its tracks, the industry and government health officials wound up slaughtering all of these cattle, at a cost to taxpayers mounting up to £100 million (~$153m USD).

The disease is also common in Asia, Australia, and even parts of Africa, sweeping through essential livestock in many developing countries undetected. Conversely, in North America it remains uncommon, with massive hunts in Michigan annually pumping money INTO the state to keep infected white tail deer populations at a bare minimum.

However, just like with human TB, the prevalence of the disease has actually gone up as it continues to gain antibiotic resistance.

That's why researchers are now looking for alternatives for fighting B-TB, and one approach is to stop the disease from ever infecting cattle in the first place. To do that, researchers are giving cows the genes of TB-resistant mice.

"Our results contribute to the control and prevention of bovine tuberculosis and provide a previously unidentified insight into breeding animals for disease resistance," the researchers concluded in their report.

However, it's important to note that the study did not investigate the GM herds' resistance to aggressive and overwhelming strains of TB. That, and the safety of the cattles' products, is still under investigation.

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