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Gene Could Lead to Heart-Healthy Foods - Atkins omega-3 fatty acids.
Gene Could Lead to Heart-Healthy Foods
Wed Feb 4, 1:59 PM ET Add Health - AP to My Yahoo!
By JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA, AP Science Writer
Scientists have pulled off a feat of gene engineering that could lead, in
theory at least, to juicy steaks and fluffy omelets that are good for your
The scientists inserted a worm gene into mice and made the rodents produce
significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, a heart-friendly substance
normally found in salmon and other oily fish.
The researchers at Boston's Massachusetts General Hospital now are trying to
breed gene-engineered chickens that would lay omega-3 eggs. And they said
the obvious follow-up would be transferring the gene to livestock to see if
they can produce meat and milk rich in omega-3.
Details of the mouse experiments appear in Thursday's issue of the journal
"It would be little bit more difficult in a cow or pig," said the study's
senior author, Jing X. Kang. "Overall, it would be quite similar and I think
the outcome would be the same."
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to prevent heart disease by helping to
reduce the inflammation involved in hardening of artery walls. They also may
reduce blood pressure and chemically regulate the electrical impulses of the
heart's rhythm. Omega-3s also are important to brain development and may
reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease (news - web sites).
The American Heart Association (news - web sites) recommends two or more
weekly servings of fish, particularly fatty fish like trout and salmon,
which are naturally high in omega-3s.
But researchers who did not participate in the experiments cautioned that
meat and dairy products rich in omega-3s will probably not be sold in
supermarkets anytime soon, even if livestock experiments are successful.
Gene-engineered herds would face significant regulatory and consumer
hurdles, they warned.
The Food and Drug Administration (news - web sites) treats transgenic
animals as medicine and requires extensive testing. So far, the agency has
not approved any gene-engineered animals for human consumption.
Transgenic meat would also probably lead to demands for labeling and
generate protests over its potential sale alongside conventional meat. After
years of fierce protests, the European Union (news - web sites) now requires
stringent labeling of foods made with genetically modified organisms.
"It's an interesting idea, a tremendous idea," said Bob Roberts, a food
researcher at Penn State University. But he added: "My sense is that
consumers would have issues with it. They have issues with transgenic
Some experiments have succeeded in manipulating animals' fat content but
never made it out of the lab.
At the University of California at Davis, cattle and sheep were fed diets in
which fats were made less digestible. The animals' meat was lower in
saturated fat. But the flavors were less rich. Butter and cheese made from
the animals' milk had different textures, too.
Contributors to those experiments said they served as a reminder of the
complex role that fat plays in food - and in consumer satisfaction.
"The lamb tasted differently - less lamby," recalled Christine Bruhn,
director of the university's Center for Consumer Research. "I would expect
if the transgenic animal was producing omega-3s, there would be a different
flavor in the meat."
In the Boston experiments, Kang's team extracted the fat-1 gene from the
microscopic soil roundworm C. elegans. They loaded the gene onto a harmless
virus that spread throughout the cells of the test animals. Then the
transgenic animals and ordinary mice were fed a diet low in omega-3s.
Tissue from the gene-engineered mice was found to be high in omega-3s. And
when the mice were bred, their offspring produced high levels of omega-3s
for three generations.
"I want to tell you about a school in Houston. It's a school for 'at risk'
In other words, folks, these are children who can't learn."
- G.W. Bush, presidential debates
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