AMHERST, Mass. -- Researchers at the University of Massachusetts have announced the birth of two healthy calves created by combining cloning techniques with genetic engineering. The animals, named Charlie and George, were born last week at a ranch in Texas following four years of research by James Robl, professor of veterinary and animal sciences at UMass, and Steven Stice, of Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) Inc., who is also an adjunct faculty member at the University. The male calves are the first to be produced from genetically altered somatic (body) cells. The announcement was made today at the meeting of the International Embryo Transfer Society in Boston.
The animals are genetically identical to one another, and were created through a combination of cloning and genetic engineering (also called transgenics) developed by Robl and Stice, who conduct this research under the auspices of ACT, a biotechnology company with close ties to the University. The scientists have developed a reliable way to introduce new traits into livestock cells and produce an unlimited number of exact copies -- clones.
The newborn cloned transgenic calves have a specific gene which serves as a "marker" to confirm that they are the products of genetic engineering. The calves are notable because they lead the way to the production of similar animals that produce very large quantities of therapeutic human proteins, essentially, medications for people in their milk. These proteins can either be extracted and purified, then taken in the form of a pill or injection, or drunk like a conventional glass of milk. This new field, a combination of pharmaceuticals and farming, is called "pharming."