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News last update:6 Aug 2012

First mad cow disease immune cattle made

A team of Japanese and American scientists claim to have engineered the world's first cattle that is immune to mad cow disease.

Mad cow disease, or bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), is caused by prions (a vital protein) getting damaged and spreading to the animal's brain tissue. It causes the collapse of the cow's central nervous system.

In their study, the team took the breed of Holstein cows to genetically engineer calves without a prion. Though the team from research centres in South Dakota, Idaho and Tokyo produced the genetically engineered cattle two years ago, it was only after carrying out checks on 20 months old cattle that they were able to confidentially declare the animals to be free of the BSE causing prion.

Researchers say the breakthrough could signal the end to massive health fears by breeding cows that are incapable of catching the disease. The disease is passed on to humans through infected beef and cause death.

Yoshimi Kuroiwa, of Tokyo, and US-based colleagues James Robl and Juergen Richt, now want to find out what function the prion has in normal cattle to see if it can be missed. The team plans to carry out further checks over several years to see if cattle can remain prion-free and therefore safe from any possible infection.

The scientists also want to see if there is any downside to the animals not growing up with the protein that is found in all other cattle, reports The Scotsman. According to the journal, Nature Biotechnology, where the findings were first reported, the genetically modified cows are identical to normal cows in every other way, but for the missing prion.

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