Pharm Fields

Farmers could be cultivating all kinds of new crops if genetic engineering lives up to its potential. Plants will no longer be seen simply as a food source but as a new source of pharmaceuticals. Dr. Charles Arntzen of Cornell University has developed a banana that is genetically engineered to provide a hepatitis vaccine. (Hepatitis is a virus that causes liver disease in humans.) Dr. Arntzen also uses potatoes as a way to carry a vaccine against a strain of E. coli that causes bleeding and fluid loss in the intestines. Potatoes have also been genetically engineered by a researcher in California who created an edible cholera vaccine by adding the genes for the cholera toxin to the potato' s genetic code. (Cholera causes a diarrhea that can lead to severe dehydration and possibly death.)

The potential for new cash crops is huge. The potential isn' t limited to plants though, livestock are also being genetically engineered to provide pharmaceuticals. The following tables show you just how valuable these genetically engineered animals are and what the drugs treat.

Drug Animal Value/Animal/Yr*
AAT sheep $15,000
TPA goat $75,000
Factor VIII sheep $37,000
Factor IX sheep $20,000
Hemoglobin pig $3,000
Lactoferrin cow $20,000
CFTR sheep, mouse $75,000
Human Protein C pig $1,000,000
*Current market price of the drug and supply produced by one animal.

Drug Descriptions
AAT alpha-1-antitrypsin, inherited deficiency leads to emphysema
TPA tissue plasminogen activator, treatment for blood clots
Factor VIII, IX blood clotting factors, treatment for hemophilia
Hemoglobin blood substitute for human transfusion
Lactoferrin infant formula additive
CFTR cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator, treatment of CF
Human Protein C

anticoagulant, treatment for blood clots


In general, animal pharming is considered to be five to 10 times more economical on a continuing basis and two to three times cheaper in start-up costs than using cell cultures to produce the pharmaceuticals.

There is a concern over this developing industry though. Animal rights activists strongly oppose the use of livestock as "factories" to produce products for humans. Many people believe that genetically altering animals for human uses is ethically wrong, even though the outcomes can be medically important, sometimes lifesaving products.

Explore More: Genetic Engineering
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
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