It might not be long before researchers find appropriate genetic manipulation techniques to prevent bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) or Mad Cow Disease, as it is commonly known.
Scientists at Texas A&M University have been able to successfully knock down disease causing genes in a goat fetus, produced through cloning. The same technique can be exploited to induce disease resistance in other animals such as cow, pigs etc. The researchers further hope that it could eventually pave way for development of novel strategies to prevent Mad Cow Disease.
Mad Cow Disease, was first identified in the UK in the year 1986. It is a potentially fatal brain-wasting disease that affects various aspects of the cow's nervous system. The animal faces a severe restriction of movement, before it dies. Approximately 180, 000 cases of the disease have been documented, worldwide.
The disease can be transmitted from infected animals to human beings. Nearly 100 human cases of mad cow disease has been documented so far, a majority of these occurring in the United Kingdom.
The scientists, using a process known as RNA interference, successfully silenced the gene that encodes the prion protein (PrP). Genetic engineering was then used to produce several copies of the silenced gene, in the successive goat cell lines. A cloned goat that had nearly 90% knock down of the PrP protein was produced using nuclear transfer technique. The results of this path breaking study can be found in the current Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Similar studies conducted on mice models with silenced PrP gene (produced by this technique) have been found to demonstrate resistance against disease mediated by the PrP protein such as mad cow disease. The same technology can soon be applied to prevention of numerous diseases that affect cattle.
The next phase of the research would be targeted at achieving the same effect, surpassing the controversial cloning technique. Clearly, more research is needed at the moment to successfully produce disease resistant animals.