Omega 3 fatty acids rank high among the best-selling supplement and functional food additives. Though omega 3 is currently found in fortified dairy products such as yogurt and milk, it’s added during the product’s manufacturing process. Chinese researchers at Inner Mongolian University in Hohhot, China, recently announced that after nearly 15 years of research they have created the world’s first genetically modified cow capable of producing milk high in omega 3 fatty acids.
Guang-Peng Li, PhD, professor with the Center for Laboratory Animals at Inner Mongalian University and chief of the research program, said the cow is nearly one year old and healthy. The cow is one of two embryo-cloned and genetically modified dairy cows that were born in June last year. Both cows had been fed a normal diet of cow feed however only one of the two cows was found to have an omega 3 fatty acid level 10 times higher than a normal cow.
The researchers delayed announcing their mind-bending lab development because it took substantial time to verify the cows’ effective genetic traces.
When asked to quantify the amount of omega 3 present in the cow’s milk, Dr. Li said that because the cow was still so young, it takes 14-15 months for a cow to become sexually mature, and another nine months to produce milk. “We collected a little piece of ear tissue and detected the fat-1 expression, and the data showed that omega 3 content in the transgenic cow was 10 times more than in the controls,” he said.
“We expect the cow to be able to produce milk with high omega 3 content next year,” commented Dr. Li.
Dr. Li told Nutraceuticals World that he and his fellow researchers were inspired to pursue the area of genetically modified cow’s milk after the success researchers had creating a genetically modified pig that was high in omega 3 fatty acids in 2006. “Omega 3 is beneficial to human health and has much potential in China,” he said. “Success of the transgenic omego 3 in the pig by Dr. Prather [Dr. Randall Prather, professor of reproductive biotechnology, University of Missouri-Columbia] and his colleagues give us a clue to try to modify a cow to produce this product, which may be better in cow than in pig, I think.”
The program involved the participation of a team of experts from China and the U.S., including the Lai Liangxue of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Yifan Dai of the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Li’s fascination with the field evolved out of related research in embryo biotechnology that began in 1996, with a special emphasis on cloning. “We did produce the world’s secondary embryonic cloned piglet, born in 1998, [and] got the first oocyte germinal vesicle transferred rabbits and mice,” he said. “I have studied cattle cloning for over ten years, over 100 cloned dairy and beef cattle have been produced in both U.S. (Utah/Idaho) and China.”
His first transgenic study was in 2001 and focused on rabbits. He eventually turned to investigate transgenic cattle in 2007. He explained that transgenic dairy cattle are similar to normal cattle “in both healthy status and morphology.” The difference lies in “the exact insertion of the fat-1 in the genome,” which is currently under investigation.
Looking ahead, he said the long-term goals of his research are to “try to get a number of fat-1 transgenic cattle expressing high level omega 3,” to produce healthy cattle products for human consumption. In the meantime, two cloned cows with the “fish oil gene” were born in March. Dr. Li said he and his colleagues are in the process of verifying and monitoring their ongoing health status.