Cows that Can't Get Mad Cow

Posted on January 2, 2007 reports that scientists are testing to see whether cows can be genetically-engineered to withstand the prions that cause mad cow. So far the scientists have raised a group of calves that are mad cow prion free. The calves are healthy at age 20 months.

The genes of cattle can be altered to omit a protein that causes the mad cow disease without any adverse effect on the cattle. Scientists at Hematech Inc., a unit of Japanese company Kirin Brewery Co., and the U.S. department of agriculture found that cows bred without the prion protein were healthy at age 20 months and their tissue showed signs of resistance to the brain-destroying disease called bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

The disease is fatal to cows and has also lead to some 200 human deaths in the last 10 years.

The scientists' findings, published in the journal Nature Biotechnology, say that the alteration can offer protection to the cattle from the disease, which in turn can completely wipe out the disease. They said the cattle produced with the genetic modification did not have the prions, which is a protein in the nervous system, which when becomes damaged and spreads to an animal's brain tissue causes the collapse of the cow's central nervous system. It leads to the mad cow disease and other related diseases like scrapie in sheep and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, or CJD, in humans, the researchers added.

The research sounds promising. It probably would help the beef industry because more consumers might eat beef if they knew there was no risk of getting mad cow disease.

More from Science Space & Robots