UC Davis professors are partnering with scientists in Brazil to genetically alter goats in an effort to combat dangerous childhood diarrhea.
UC Davis animal science professors Elizabeth Maga and James Murray with the help of married UCD alumni Marcelo and Luciana Bertonlini, will alter goats‘ milk will help children in Brazil fight diarrheal diseases.
The enzyme lyzesome – found in the tears, saliva and milk of all mammals – helps cure bacterial infections by breaking down the cell walls of bad bacteria. Adding this enzyme to goats‘ could help prevent gastric problems of children in developing countries.
“About five million children a year get debilitating diarrhea, around 2.2 million die from it,” Murray said. “Those that don’t die are affected by either mental retardation, growth retardation, or both. The problem exists all over in the developing world.“
Murray said that in Brazil, one in four children die every year before the age of five, with 25 percent of them dying due to dehydration as a result of diarrhea.
Maga said many studies show that children who have been breast-fed have fewer instances of diarrhea and respiratory infections due to the presence of lysozyme and another good bacteria lattoferin that are anti-microbial. Good bacteria in the gut can help prevent such gastric problems like diarrhea.
A $3.1 million grant from Brazil’s Science and Technology department in the Brazilian government will allow this research to continue with the possibility of renewal depending on results.
“The grant is to establish the genetics of our lyzesome goats in Brazil, to generate goats that are transgenic to the compound lactoferrin and the study of the milk in Brazil,” Moga said.
Murray and Moga have been working on these transgenic goats for almost twenty years at UC Davis, with genetically enhanced goats on campus for ten years.
“We’ve been working on this for a long time, because this is long term research. It is going to take about two to three years to have goats with milk in Brazil,” Murray said.
Professor Aldo Lima is the leader of the project at the Federal University of Ceará, in Fortaleza, Brazil and said that goats are beneficial to use because of their potential to carry high concentrations of the lysozyme enzyme.
“[Goats are] being used in the field of Brazil as one of the major sources of milk and this transgenic animal produces a high concentration of lysozyme in the milk compared to a normal goat“, Lima said in an e-mail interview.
According to Maga, normal goats carry 1,600 times less lysozyme in their milk than humans. Genetically altered goats will carry 1,000 times more than a normal goat, almost 70 percent of what humans have.
“We’re doing a lot of studies right now with animal models to test the efficacy and safety in the use of the milk to see if can we prevent bacterial infections,” Maga said.
Pigs are currently being used since their digestive systems are similar to humans. In three to five years, trials will begin with humans, much like testing other drugs in medical studies, Maga said.
“Part of Brazil is tropical and our types of goats won’t adapt there very well. We’re working on the deportation of embryos and semen to Brazil and introducing them to the local [goat] breed so that they can adapt to the climate,” Maga said.
Maga hopes to get the permits approved by the Brazilian government by the end of the year for the transgenic goats, which will be made at the University in Fortaleza, Brazil.
ANGELA RUGGIERO can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.