Several recent news articles have reported that, “Scientists have created genetically modified cattle that produce ‘human’ milk”. Scientists from China, through cloning technology and gene splicing, have developed 300 Holstein cows that produce milk similar in composition to Human milk. The articles seem to have created panic among those skeptical of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s). They ask, “Why do we need this product? Can’t mothers just nurse their own babies?” I believe there are two issues here.
First, there are the ethical issues of combining human genes with those of animals and “playing God”. This is not a new debate. It has been going on for years and is not likely to be resolved any time soon.
Second, is the safety issue, Should we be altering the genes of plants and animals that are part of our food supply? Although our safety record is not perfect, generally it is very good. We have been altering the genes of food crops ever since Gregor Mendel studied inheritance traits in peas in the mid 1800’s. Most of the foods we grow today have been genetically manipulated either by natural selection and selective breeding or by more advanced procedures in a laboratory.
I do think that the potential is great. There are many mothers who for one reason or another cannot nurse their babies, and this could be a great benefit for them and their babies. Similarly, we have the potential to get cows to make insulin in their milk which we could extract, very inexpensively, to treat diabetes. Who knows what other diseases we may be able to treat or cure with this same or similar technology. No one is suggesting that all cows will someday be genetically engineered or that this milk will even be sold for general consumption. It will likely be used only for very specific purposes, because of the high cost associated with producing it. Is the right answer to discontinue this type of research and allow people to suffer who we may otherwise help?
I believe people generally seem to be scared of what they do not understand. I often wonder what people today would have said if they saw Jesus turn water into wine, or feed 5000 with 7 loaves and a few small fishes. Would they refuse to partake because it was “unnatural” or possibly “genetically engineered”. I believe that God gave us the ability to learn and understand science for the benefit of all mankind. That does not mean that I think science is always right; often it is initially wrong. However, the more we learn and begin to understand science, the greater the chance that we will be able to help people in need.