Sunday, 13 December 2015


I've been reading an article about "pharming". The terms used to refer to farmers using antibiotics or other medications when rearing animals. The term has change; now it refers to a process where we produce an animal which contains medicinal values which humans can consume. For example, one company has a herd of genetically modified goats which produce milk which contains the human protein antithrombin. Antithrombin helps prevent blood clots that could lead to a stroke or heart attack, something of clear and present interest to me and a great many other people.

This is an amazing bit of science, rife with an equally large pool of ethical questions. Should we even be doing this? This is not a "natural" breeding program where we genetically select by mating animals which have qualities we desire. Breeding programs, a slower, more understandable form of genetic modification, have been going on for as long as man has domesticated animals. Transgenic animals are ones produced in pharming, where a gene from one species, in the goat case a human gene, is introduced into another species, the goat.

The gene selection is very specific. Thousands of examples have proven that we won't get a satyr out of this program. There will be no goats with human features or intelligence. This gene selection does one thing, and one thing alone. It makes the goats produce antithrombin in their milk. That's it. No Franken-goat.

So what's the big deal? Antithrombin is typically produced from human plasma, from blood donations. It's an expensive and difficult process, meaning medications with antithrombin which could save a great many lives, are costly and in short supply. However each genetically modified goat can produce a kilogram of antithrombin each year; it takes 50,000 people to donate that same amount. And the goats don't seem to notice anything at all. They just produce milk, like they always have.

Science is doing, and learning, amazing things. I am certain they will one day come up with a cure for ALS. I would mind if it was in goat's milk, or chicken's eggs, or even in brussel sprouts. I'd take the cure, any day. And I would thank the goat profusely.

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