Since the days when mankind invented agriculture and animal husbandry, we’ve been genetically modifying the plants and animals we consume. Yet for almost a decade scientists have been blurring the line between human and animal by producing human-animal chimeras—a hybrid creature that’s part human, part animal.
The Chinese began in 2003 by fusing human cells with rabbit eggs to produce the first human-animal chimeras. In the 2005, scientists at Stanford University created mice with small amounts of human brain cells. By 2008, British researchers had created the first human-animal hybrid embryo. The underlying ethical assumption is that humans genetic material can be mixed with other species in whatever way that scientists deem appropriate for their research.
That certainly seems to be the case with the Chinese scientists who have created genetically modified cattle that produce “human” milk in a bid to make cows’ milk more nutritious:
The scientists have successfully introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows to produce milk with the same properties as human breast milk.
Human milk contains high quantities of key nutrients that can help to boost the immune system of babies and reduce the risk of infections.
The scientists behind the research believe milk from herds of genetically modified cows could provide an alternative to human breast milk and formula milk for babies, which is often criticised as being an inferior substitute.
They hope genetically modified dairy products from herds of similar cows could be sold in supermarkets. The research has the backing of a major biotechnology company.
The work is likely to inflame opposition to GM foods. Critics of the technology and animal welfare groups reacted angrily to the research, questioning the safety of milk from genetically modified animals and its effect on the cattle’s health.
See also: Of Mice and Men (and Other Chimeras)