Got Allergies? Scientists Engineer a Cow That Makes Hypoallergenic Milk

By Ashley P. Taylor | October 3, 2012 3:08 pm


People with milk allergies often turn to products like rice and soy milks. But now, in a twist, there is a new source of hypoallergenic milk in the offing: genetically-modified cows.

New Zealand scientists have produced a calf that gives milk devoid of a protein, called beta-lactoglobulin (BLG), that causes an immune response in people with milk allergies. To get the milk this way, they had to engage in some fancy  genetic footwork: They inserted a specially designed gene into cow embryos that prevented the production of BLG.

When a gene is transcribed into a protein, a transcript called mRNA carries the relevant information from the cell’s nucleus, where the gene is, to the protein-making machinery. The gene the researchers put into the cow embryos was specifically  built to glom onto the mRNA for the beta-lactoglobulin protein, thus preventing it from reaching its destination, and preventing any beta-lactoglobulin from being made. Out 57 cow embryos used, the team got one healthy female calf that did indeed produce BLG-free milk.

This new milk is not meant for lactose-intolerant people: lactose intolerance happens when people cannot break down a milk sugar, lactose, and does not involve BLG. But  sometime in the future, such hypoallergenic milk could be a boon for the 2 to 3 percent of babies in developed countries have allergies to proteins in milk. Though baby formulas in which whey has been specially treated to break down BLG exist, they are expensive to produce, not one-hundred-percent BLG-free—and they don’t always taste good, the researchers wrote.

But how does this milk taste? Inquiring minds want to know, and the researchers, unfortunately, did not report any taste tests of their new BLG-free milk.

Cow photo via Royalty-free image collection/Flickr




CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Bernadette Barber

    THis is a BAD idea. Thats for sure.

    Many of the problems with milk that is that it is industrial milk. Industrial processes denature milk so the body does not recognize it.

    Once my son went to raw milk his allergies disappeared.

    Check out Weston A Price Foundation for news on NATURAL milk. I would trust mother nature over a laboratory any day.

  • Scott

    Fitting, “Bernadette” sounds like a non-genetically modified cow. Next let’s see if we can make wheat without gliadin!

  • Oksana

    This article says less than most other sources that reported on this.
    I was expecting something more from Discover!
    Seriously? Reporting just the ‘good’ part, not reporting problems, and not asking any questions when in fact this milk could be considered more allergenic.

    “But the so-called hypoallergenic milk eliminates one allergen only to increase another, researchers not involved with the study say.
    The RNA “fine-tuning” resulted in a 98 percent BLG “gene knockdown,” but it didn’t decrease the milk’s overall protein content, according to the study. As the BLG protein levels dropped, casein proteins — which are naturally found in cows’ milk anyway — increased.
    Dr. Scott Sicherer, a professor and researcher at the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said BLG is just one of the proteins in bovine milk that cause allergies in humans. Many humans are allergic to multiple milk proteins, especially casein.
    “Casein, actually, is the major milk protein that we believe causes most of the severe milk allergies,” he said. “Creating a milk enriched with casein proteins would seem problematic given what we know about milk allergy.”
    According to Sicherer, 13 to 76 percent of patients react to BLG, compared with 92 percent to 100 percent of patients who react to caseins.”

  • Jane

    I read this with interest. My mom (born 1917) was deathly allergic to milk. My grandmother couldn’t nurse, so they put her on raw cow’s milk and she nearly died. Convulsions, etc. My great-grandmother saved her with potato gruel. She had HUGE allergic reactions to milk and milk products.

    Bernadette, sorry, but you have NO idea of what a real milk allergy is like. We’re not talking digestive upsets, we’re talking convulsions and breathing difficulties. It isn’t resolved by raw milk (my mom was a farm child and getting it direct from the family cow, btw). It’s LIFE THREATENING. (BTW, that said,I’m a huge fan of raw milk, and grew up drinking it.)


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