Chinese scientists claim to have successfully bred cattle that contain higher levels of essential omega-3 fatty acids.
A team from Northwest A&F University and the National Beef Cattle Improvement Centre in Yangling, Shaanxi reported in the journal Biotechnology Letters this week that they have successfully introduced a gene into fetal cells from Luxi Yellow cattle, a Chinese breed with a high beef yield.
“We have provided the first evidence that it is possible to create a new breed of cattle with higher nutritional value in terms of their fatty acid composition,” team Linsen Zan said in a report on the research by the South China Morning Post.
Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to help protect the brain and heart.
The transgenic cattle reportedly showed not only significantly increased contents of omega-3s in muscle tissue, but also the ratio of n-6/n-3 PUFAs was 0.95:1, which was lower than that 5.33:1 of typical cattle.
Genes similar to those used in the study have previously been introduced to pigs, dairy cattle and sheep by international research groups.
However, the Chinese scientists still need to figure out the best way to rear the transgenic cattle.
Of 14 calves that successfully received the gene, 11 died at less than four months old, mainly from inflammation and from an infection common to cattle, haemorrhagic septicaemia.
The scientists say further research is needed to determine the causes.
Abnormalities may result from the incomplete reprogramming of cells or from some genes being turned on and off during the generation of embryos.
“There is much to learn about the best scientific techniques and the best husbandry required to make beef a rich animal source of omega-3 oils for human nutrition, but we have taken the first step,” says lead author Gong Cheng.