Go to contents

Biotechnology Not A Goose Laying Out Golden Eggs Yet

Posted August. 18, 2002 22:46,   


On August 5, 2002, Hwang Woo-suk and his team of Seoul National University gave a birth for the first time to a pig by means of manipulating their genes. Their trial could have been a new benchmark in animal-cloning. But the pig died within 24 hours of their birth. Hwang and his team used a total of 800 pigs as surrogate mother pigs, but only 40 of them succeeded in conceiving. Further, only one of the conceived successfully gave a birth. But the newly born died despite all the efforts. Of course, other pigs ended up in miscarriage.

Last month, Kim Jin-hee’s team of Kyungsang University cloned 2 pigs, but they also died in 2 weeks. “Cloned, then die soon.” That is what people say these days.

“Bio-animals,” which once were called a goose laying out golden eggs, are not yet up to the expectation on them. Bio-animals are created by means of cloning or gene-manipulation. Also these animals were expected of making it possible to produce in large volume useful medicines or animals of superior characteristics.

A cow named Boram has gave birth to the 2nd generation. Boram attracted the public’s attention for its ability to produce human milk. Boram’s genes contain lactoferrin, a gene that produces elements of human milk. But the problem is the density of lactoferrin. Lee Kyung-kwang, the doctor who created Boram, said, “Currently, Boram produces lactoferrin whose density is half of what needs for marketing. I have tried many times to increase it. But the results are not up to my expectation. I feel a little down for that.”

It is true of Medi, a black goat whose gene was manipulated to produce a kind of protein which increases white cells that boost the immune system. Yoo Joon-wook a professor of KAIST, who produced Medi in 1996, said, “Medi has already died. We get the manipulated milk from its predecessors. But the needed protein in the milk is much lower in density.”

The gene-manipulated pig which was boasted of producing in urine hematopoietics, which accelerates red cells, died within 9 months of its birth. Only the pig produces the same in milk has not proved its marketability.

The disharmony is the major factor for the miscarriage and early death of the cloned or manipulated animals. In the process of turning an adult animal’s cells into those for a baby, unnatural attempts such as application of chemicals are used, and, therefore, somewhere in the cell cycles, disorder occurs. Doctor Hang Yong-man published a paper last year, arguing, “Miscarriages for cloned animals occur since their cells have more methyl in their DNA than normal ones. In addition, their placental cells do not grow as well as those of the normal animals.”

The same thing happens to manipulated animals. The manipulated animals get various stresses like injection of other animals’ DNA from early stage of conception. Thus, like in cases of cloned animals, they often end up in miscarriage. Furthermore, the genes inserted often do not function as expected in the newly born animals. Scientists make a powerful switch in front of the gene to help produce more protein. But the switch turns off frequently or malfunctions based on the position where the gene is inserted.

Some even think that the dream has to go a long, long way to realization, since, if one thing is fixed, another comes up. Also the US FDA is beefing up its regulations requiring that any medicine made from gene manipulation should be tested and produced so from animals raised in areas where mad cow disease or foot-and-mouth disease is not found.

But many scientists stress that these problems will be overcome some day. Doctor Lee Kyung-kwang expects, “There are some protein drugs made by foreign pharmacist companies. Those drugs have reached up to the last stage of clinical trial. In the near future, as the know-how and our knowledge of bio-phenomena gets deeper, we will mass-produce cheap medicines using gene-manipulated animals.”