S. Korean Scientists Clone
Mad Cow-Resistant Calves

By Cho Mee-young

SEOUL (Reuters) -- A group of South Korean scientists have cloned cows they believe are resistant to the deadly mad cow disease and will test the animals in Japan for five years, the leader of the research team said.
Professor Hwang Woo-suk at Seoul National University, who led the team, told Reuters the group had duplicated with cows an experiment conducted in creating genetically altered mice with resistance to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE).
BSE, or mad cow disease, is thought to spread when cattle are fed meat-and-bone meal containing brains, spines and other materials from cattle that contain an infectious version of a protein called a variant prion.
Hwang said a South Korean-led group of 130 researchers at teams in his country, Japan and the United States had cloned four calves with high levels of prions, making them resistant to BSE.
"The calves were cloned by inserting certain somatic cells with an abnormally high number of prions into a cow's eggs, whose nuclei had already been removed, and by cultivating the eggs in surrogate cows," he said in an interview in Seoul.
Previous overseas studies had so far proved mice with abnormally high levels of prions were resistant to BSE.
To test the possible breakthrough, and confirm the cows are actually resistant to mad cow disease, the cloned calves would undergo "invivo challenge testing" at research facilities in Tsukuba, Japan, Hwang said.
"The four calves and some more to be born from the surrogate mother cows will be sent to Japan early next year to be fed agents that cause BSE," he said.
The breeding of genetically altered cattle resistant to mad cow disease would be a world first, Hwang said. South Korea had applied for international patents, he added.
Korea has no confirmed mad cow disease cases. But Hwang said he had started the study to prevent any possibility that the disease could hit the country and destroy local livestock industry.
Japan confirmed its ninth case of mad cow disease in November since the September 2001 discovery of Japan's -- and Asia's -- first case of the brain-wasting illness.
"I hope that people around the world can eat steak without any concern of mad cow disease in the future," Hwang said.
About 100 people, mainly in Europe, have died after contracting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), a rare and fatal BSE-related disease thought to be caused by eating tainted meat.
There is no cure for any form of the CJD disease and they are always fatal. BSE decimated Britain's cattle population and has spread to several countries, including Switzerland.
- Additional report by Kim Yeon-hee
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