Thursday, June 14, 2012

Genetically-Modified Camel Milk Being Explored For Pharmaceutical Benefits

Camels. Photo courtesy: jasejc/CC BY-SA 2.0

My sympathies go out to Dr. Frank N. Stein's horse. The poor thing must be completely knackered constantly transporting the doctor's genetically-modified experiments from one country to another, one government to another.

This time Dr. Stein and his horse are in the United Arab Emirates to clone (of all things) camels.

Pretty scary stuff here (on a number of levels): reports that researchers in Dubai are working on developing genetically-modified camels. The project aims to slash the prices of life-saving drugs — including insulin, and clotting factors for treating haemophilia — in the Middle East and North Africa, according to Nisar Wani, head of the Reproductive Biology Laboratory at Dubai's Camel Reproduction Center, in the United Arab Emirates.

"We are establishing camel cells modified with exogenous [foreign] DNA, for use in producing transgenic cloned animals, or GM camels," Wani told SciDev.Net. "Hopefully we will transfer camel transgenic embryos to surrogate mothers for the first time later this year."

Wani went on to say he was unable to pinpoint when the first transgenic animal would be born, as the calving rate for cloned embryos was only 5%, and "this rate gets even smaller when transgenic cells are used".

Why camels? Cows would be a better option from the standpoint of milk production; but, camels have been chosen for this research as they are better suited for the arid environment of the United Arab Emirates and surrounding nations where the work will actually take place.

The Reproductive Biology Laboratory was established in Dubai in 2003, to study the reproductive techniques in species from the region, particularly camels.

"[Previously] there was little or no literature available on assisted reproductive techniques in camels, so we had to standardise all the basic techniques one by one," explained Wani. "Finally, in 2009, we produced the first cloned camel calf — named Injaz — and thereafter produced many more."

The lab's researchers have established a cell bank from 'elite' camels, which excel in milk production and adapting to drought and hot weather, and now plan to clone these animals.

Once again, the question of ethics rears its head. What right do we, as humans, have to alter the genetics of a species without even knowing what the long-term effects could be to the animals forced to participate; especially when any benefits reaped are solely for the good of humans not the species altered.

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