Friday June 15, 2001
By TONY VERDON
New Zealand's first transgenic calves have been born at AgResearch's Ruakura research station, and three more are expected in the next few days.
The calves are the first to be born here with a human gene inserted to produce human protein myelin in their milk. Researchers say the protein could help multiple sclerosis sufferers.
Although opponents of genetic engineering say the experiment offends most New Zealanders, they refused last night to suggest the newborn calves should be slaughtered and the experiment abandoned.
The experiment is now likely to continue for several years until the calves are mature enough to produce milk, and researchers can determine whether they carry the protein.
The calves had already survived a High Court challenge and months of campaigning to have the experiment abandoned. They are under tight security in an outdoor contained facility at Ruakura, under strict conditions imposed by the Environmental Risk Management Authority.
An AgResearch official
said the three calves were born during the weekend, two naturally and one
by Caesarean section.
The researchers placed 51 embryos in 51 cows, and recorded 45 failed pregnancies.
The insertion of a synthetic copy of a human myelin basic protein gene into dairy cattle was initially approved by the authority in July, 18 months after the initial application.
In August, a range of people challenged the approval in the High Court, including some Waikato Maori, who opposed mixing human genes with those of animals.
The six cows were under threat when the High Court ordered the authority to urgently reconsider its approval for the experiment. The authority decided last month to let the experiment go ahead.
A special committee of the Environmental Risk Management Authority, which oversees genetic experiments, decided 3-1 that the benefits of the experiment outweighed the risks provided there were controls.
The sole dissenter on the committee was an expert on Maori culture.
Greens co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said last night that no appeal had been made against the approval, so the calves were legal.
"We are not calling for anything to happen to the calves at the moment," she said.
But the fact that of the 51 cows implanted 45 did not succeed was a firm indication of how hit and miss the technology was.
"We believe that most New Zealanders are opposed to crossing human gene material with animals and that it crosses some very important ethical and cultural boundaries," she said.
The Greens believed the experiment did not involve testing a treatment for MS, but a manufacturing method.
the calves would be given hormones to induce early lactation in about nine months to see whether the make-up of their milk had been altered.
"If at some stage the answer is no, that they do not contain the human gene or myelin then the animals will be sacrificed," she said.
nteThe row over the calves has been the sharp focus of the debate over genetic engineering.
At the same time, Erma has approved a trial on 50 genetically engineered sheep in south Waikato.
It was revealed last year that DNA from an unnamed Danish woman had been inserted into the flock.
PPL Therapeutics, the Scottish company which cloned Dolly the sheep, hopes to reproduce a gene to treat cystic fibrosis.