Scientists in Australia have made a breakthrough in the quest to genetically engineer the perfect dairy herd by discovering how to multiply and isolate stem cells found in cow embryos.
Australia's Dairy CRC announced this week it had discovered a way of isolating and maintaining more stem cells from bovine embryos. It predicted the new techniques would help to speed up the genetic improvement of Australia's dairy herd.
Dr Paul Verma, a scientist who worked on the project, said: "The crucial breakthrough made by the team was to generate more than 200,000 stem cells from a single embryo. Conventional methods produce less than 10,000 cells per embryo."
Stem cells are those that have not yet become a specific type of cell such as an eye, brain or liver cell. Embryonic stem cells can potentially produce every other type of cell, making their manipulation key.
"We have been able to multiply the stem cells in the laboratory, creating stem cell lines," said Verma. "This is more efficient than continually sourcing stem cells from embryos. Previously, stem cell lines had been created for the human, the mouse and the primate, but not the cow."
Stem cells may be used in dairy to improve a cow's udder health and milk yield, whilst also offering a new way of vaccinating animals against disease.
"In the future, stem cells will be able to be tested to determine if they carry the genes likely to produce elite animals," Dairy CRC said. The research group has filed an international patent application to safeguard its new technology.
It is running the stem cell project as part of its Delivery Technologies Program, which focuses on how to deliver improved genetics to the dairy industry through a range of advanced reproductive technologies.
CRC also announced last November it was part of state-funded research to examine bioactive material in milk, with a view to developing new ideas for functional dairy products.
The group said it had developed a database of genes that produce 'bioactives', such as proteins, peptides, lipids and carbohydrates. CRC-backed scientists have also found several components in milk related to cell growth, immunity and inflammation.