DAVIS, Calif. -- University of California scientists say they have found a way to combat intestinal diseases in the developing world through a type of enhanced goat milk.
A decade ago, UC Davis researchers found a way to transfer a human gene into goats so they would produce a high concentration of an enzyme that fights diarrhea-causing bacteria.
They are now working with three Brazilian universities to ship semen and embryos from their goat population to that country, where it is hoped a new herd will begin producing the enzyme-rich milk.
The experiment is the result of work by animal research scientists James Murray and Elizabeth Maga. Their herd produces milk with a high concentration of the enzyme lysozyme. Normal goats' milk contains a fraction of 1 percent of the enzyme.
Their herd is in its fifth generation, and they said it's time to take the next step.
They are seeking government permits to send semen and embryos to Brazil, where breeding with a native goat population should produce a new herd. They hope to begin testing the goats' milk on humans within five years.
So far, the enzyme-rich milk has been tested only on pigs. Pigs fed the enriched milk had no side effects and were better able to fight bacterial infections than pigs fed normal goats' milk.
After more laboratory and animal testing, the scientists plan to give the enhanced milk to adults, then to children in some areas of northeast Brazil where childhood diarrhea is a deadly problem.
"I think the benefit is potentially huge," Murray said. "This doesn't solve the problem. One still needs to have clean water and adequate food."
Researchers at the University of Fortaleza in Brazil said more than 5 percent of children die of all causes before age 5 in the region, nearly twice the Brazilian national average. In some cities, 15 percent of children die, among the highest rates in the world.
Infant diarrhea remains a leading cause of death in there because the population does not have reliable access to safe water, nutritious food or medical care.
The World Health Organization estimates that more than 2 million children a year worldwide die of intestinal infections.