|SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY|
Products and Discoveries
now designer milk!
Often in the scientific history a window opens, and suddenly the theoretical becomes possible. One such window opened recently with the developments in the field of genetic engineering and biotechnology, resulting in the production of a novel milk called designer milk. The designer milk is a nutritionally-enhanced milk tailored to consumer preferences or rich in specific milk components that offers the consumers greater health benefits ranging from boosting immunity to relieving diarrhoea.
Milk is a nutritionally balanced food in terms of protein, carbohydrate, fat and mineral content. The composition of the milk is changed in case of designer milk to derive health benefits as well as to improve the technological properties of the milk to obtain high quality of cheese, yoghurt, butter, infant formula, etc.
The genetically-engineered cows that overexpress casein proteins in their milk are becoming a reality now. The milk casein proteins together with milk fat form the characteristic white chalky children’s milk "moustache". Increasing the casein content in the milk increases the milk calcium levels and also improves the cheese yield.
The dairy scientists by employing genetic markers have selected cows that naturally produce in their milk the original form of casein protein (A2 beta) rather than the altered from (A1 beta). The milk from these cows is marketed as A2 milk in New Zealand and Australia and the researchers claim that consuming A2 casein milk significantly decreases the risk of coronary heart diseases, schizophrenia, autism, etc.
People suffering from lactose intolerance which causes intestinal upset and diarrhoea may soon be able to consume milk derived from the genetically-modified cows, naturally producing very low level of lactose in their milk. The scientists are also aiming to develop genetically-altered cows that would produce milk devoid of milk allergens, so that children allergic to cows’ milk may drink milk without adverse effects.
We may soon have butter with better spreadibility (equivalent to margarine) and that too with all eating qualities of the butter intact. It has been made possible by making minor adjustments in the feeding habits of dairy cows which not only increases the melting point of the milk fat but also decreases the overall fat content. Butter with improved shelf life because of its resistance to contaminating bacteria is also under way.
The DNA technologists have identified a gene responsible for milk fat synthesis that may allow them to selectively breed cows that will naturally produce low-fat milk. The reduction in the fat content will provide health benefits to people suffering from heart diseases and deranged cholesterol levels. The day is not far off when we may even have cows containing the cocoa gene inserted in them to produce chocolate flavoured milk.
Milk from pastured (grass fed) cows rather than grain fed cows is being marketed in Western countries now a days. Drinking this milk may decrease the incidence of diabetes and cancers besides enhancing immunity and bone density.
The cows expressing in their milk the constituents of the human milk are also moving closer to reality. Such a "humanised" milk will have as good antimicrobial and antibacterial activity as the mothers’ milk and thus can be fed to needy infants. Milk containing human therapeutic proteins to cure diseases such as osteoporosis, pancreatic diseases, growth and blood disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, etc is being produced by cattle having their genetic makeup altered to secrete the human therapeutic proteins in their milk. The therapeutic protein is later on purified from the milk and is used as medicine.
To conclude, designer milk holds big promises, but it has also raised many social and ethical issues regarding animal welfare, environmental impact, regulatory processes, and food safety and labelling. All these need to be addressed before the designer milk is introduced for human consumption.
Fighting HIV infection
Targeting a protein which helps repair DNA damage in human cells could provide a new way of fighting HIV infection, a new research suggests.
This approach might offer a way of fighting multi-drug resistant strains of HIV that are becoming increasingly common nowadays, according to a report by New Scientist magazine.
Most HIV drugs work by aiming at proteins produced by the HIV virus itself.
But because HIV has a short life-cycle and readily mutates, the proteins it produces quickly evolve to become resistant to these antiretroviral drugs, researchers found.
The study shows that
blocking one of the key cellular proteins, which regulates a cell’s
response to DNA damage, can stop HIV from capturing it and using it to
Mark O’Connor, project leader and head of biology at Kudos Pharmaceuticals Limited in Cambridge, UK, said inhibiting the protein, called ataxia-telangiectasia-mutated, in human cells exposed to HIV in the lab stopped the virus from joining many of the exposed cells’ DNA and instead triggered their demise. — Prensa Latina
Products and Discoveries
Last April, the Genesis spacecraft began its journey home. It had been parked out in space collecting solar particles for two years. Yet even though its job was done, Genesis didn’t head straight home. Instead, it took a three million-mile detour, swinging past Earth to do a loop de loop around a distant point before flying back to Earth.
This circuitous route was no accident. The spacecraft had hopped aboard the interplanetary superhighway, a network of tubes crisscrossing through the solar system. By jumping from one tube to another at the solar system’s version of highway interchanges, a spacecraft can travel vast distances using practically no fuel.
Europe goes back to Mars
European space scientists have strongly recommended a mission equipped with a Rover as the next scientific mission to Mars as part of the European Space Agency’s Aurora programme of planetary exploration.
The mission would conduct a detailed analysis of the Martian environment and search for traces of past or present life. A launch in June 2011, followed by a two year journey, would arrive on the Red Planet in June 2013. A detailed proposal will be prepared for consideration by ESA member states at the Agency’s Council Meeting at Ministerial Level in December 2005.
A two-year joint ESA and UNESCO project to chart the habitats of endangered mountain gorillas with satellites came to a fruitful finish in Paris, as end-users received final maps and geographical data products for use in the field.
These maps will help us make our anti-poaching efforts more effective," said Eulalie Bashige, Director General of the Institut Congolais pour la Conservation de la Nature (ICCN) of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). "We can also clarify the exact location of our national park boundaries, improve our biological inventories of the parks, and plan out gorilla eco-tourism."
Less than 700 mountain gorillas remain alive, found in highland forests that straddle the borders between Rwanda, Uganda and the DRC. These regions make up a set of five national parks; three of these have been designated World Heritage Sires by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), while the remaining two have been nominated for the same status.
The parks have long boundaries that run across
inaccessible and hardly mapped territory, with no compatible maps available
across national borders. An influx of refugees into the area in recent years
has led to illegal forest clearing for agriculture or fuel, as well as illegal
poaching for food, reducing the living space left for the gorillas.
Q If the temperature-resisting genes of thermophilic bacteria (which thrive in volcanoes and hot springs) were transferred into the human embryo, will the human race be able to resist the effects of mounting temperatures due to the process of global warming?
A Humans are capable of living under a climate that is five degrees warmer. Even now there are some that live near the polar ice caps, or at high altitude and others who survive in burning desert areas. Therefore, there doesn’t appear to be a need to tackle the effects of global warming on humans via such strategies. But let us leave it aside, including the consequences of experimentation you will have to go through before all human genes are modified in a desired way. But coping with global warming cannot be the objective. The real danger of global warming might be on climate, submergence of large areas of coastal habitation and shift in cropping patterns. These changes would probably be manageable if they occurred over thousands of years. If compressed into a few decades, however, the effects on humans might be serious. Instead of changing our genetic structure, we have to learn to change our lifestyles in a way that would ensure a sustainable future for us and also protect biodiversity. Social solutions might be preferable.
Perhaps, I think some transformation of humans through genetic modification is bound to happen. Lot of this work might be dangerous, or unethical, and we need to tread cautiously.
Q We all know that there is no instrument having efficiency more than 100 per cent. But in case of amplifiers (power and sound amplifiers) how does this become possible?
A I tend to agree that the big amplifiers that are loved by young people and are a cause of tremendous annoyance to many of the older generation seem to defy the law of conservation of energy. It sometimes appears that they would puncture the eardrums of all in the neighborhood and possibly shake the surrounding buildings into rubble. But as a scientist I can assure you that their efficiency in converting electrical energy into sound energy does not exceed 100%.