THANKS TO GENETIC engineering, scientists can direct cells to produce all kinds of proteins that have therapeutic or nutritional value. But cranking them out in large volumes is a challenge. Robert D. Bremel, dairy science professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, says a good solution can be found in the barnyard. "Cows are the answer," he declares.
Bremel injects special genes into the udders of cows, altering the cells so they produce milk mixed with drugs or other useful products. One example is a high-intensity sweetener derived from a Central African berry, which could be used in diet foods. Another is an antibody that recognizes tumors, meaning it could assist in finding and attacking human cancer. To market such products, Bremel and several partners six months ago started a company called Gala Design in Sauk City, Wis.
Cows promise several advantages over sheep and goats, whose milk has been manipulated by other biotech startups to yield drugs. Because of the size of the dairy industry, there could be huge economies of scale. And many dairy plants already use milk-processing techniques easily adaptable to genetic manipulation. There's no need to clone Bossie to make all this possible. If she gets a dose of the right genes, she's got everything she needs to do the job.