Biotech Bossies

One of the human body's most important defense mechanisms, antibodies, could come from a surprising new source, cows. Antibodies are one of the ways our bodies fight off disease and infection. Antibodies extracted from healthy blood can be used to treat people suffering from certain diseases.

Antibodies are often in short supply because they have to come from donated blood. To overcome the shortage, scientists are actively researching ways to produce human antibodies without humans.

In 2001, a calf genetically engineered to produce human antibodies was born. Scientists created an artificial chromosome and inserted it into the genetic makeup of the calf. The artificial chromosome carries human immune system genes, making it possible for the cow to produce human antibodies in its blood.

About 20 of these "transchromosomic" calves have been cloned, creating a mini-herd of animals that produce human antibodies in their blood. Scientists say the calves are an important step toward a steady supply of antibodies.

Hurdles have to be overcome before the antibodies can be used in humans though. Researchers have to figure out a way for the cows' blood to be purified, to ensure no viruses or other problems are passed along with the antibodies.

Source: Briggs, Helen. BBC News Online. "Cows Born with Human DNA." September 2002.

Explore More: Genetic Engineering
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
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