Using genetically modified livestock to treat diarrhoea
Friday saw the annual return of Comic Relief, a charity event to raise money for both developing and developed countries. From David Brent to children with malaria, it’s an emotional roller coaster. Although I feel it lacks informative content and instead dwells on clips of sick children, there was some good focus on the need for improved vaccinations, and as always, better malaria prevention. Diarrhoea kills 1.8 million children each year, and although there are vaccinations available against Rotavirus, there are none for E. coli, which is a main cause. There are currently efforts to develop a vaccine against Enterotoxigenic E. coli, with some currently in clinical trials but there are other avenues for prevention and treatment that are being explored. One of these is the potential use of genetically modified agriculture and a recent study in PLoS ONE found genetically modifying goats’ milk could treat diarrhoea.
Researchers from the University of California used genetically modified goats that produce milk containing human lysozyme to treat diarrhoea. Lysozyme is an antibacterial enzyme produced in bodily fluids including breast milk. It plays an important role in fighting against infection and helps establish a healthy gut flora in breastfed infants. Transgenic animals producing lyosozyme containing milk have been investigated as a way to reduce infections such as mastitis in animals, but this is the first study investigating its potential to treat diarrhoea.
The researchers infected pigs with Enterotoxigenic E. coli before feeding them milk containing lysozyme from transgenic goats. Pigs fed with the modified milk recovered faster than those fed normal milk, restoring intestinal function and immune cells to normal levels much quicker. This may offer a better alternative treatment to oral rehydration therapy when breast feeding cannot be used.
Diarrhoea is straightforward to treat, and it is terribly sad that it claims so many lives each year. This study has shown for the first time that livestock can be genetically altered to treat diarrhoea. Introducing such animals into developing countries could help reduce mortality rates caused not only by diarrhoea, but perhaps other bacterial infections. Hopefully, these results will pave way for further research on specifically modifying animals to help combat infectious disease in developing countries.