SYDNEY: A new breed of cow that produces skim milk naturally – straight from the teat – has been discovered by New Zealand scientists.
The cow’s milk is low in saturated fat but high in protein, according to the researchers. It is also high in omega-3 oils, which have been linked to improved brain power and mental wellbeing, as well as decreased incidence of cardiovascular disease.
A Friesian cow called Marge is at the centre of the breakthrough. Discovered in 2001 by New Zealand-based biotech company ViaLactia, Marge has a random genetic mutation that enables her to produce milk containing significantly less fat than regular milk.
More importantly, Marge’s milk also has substantially lower levels of saturated fat – a leading cause of obesity and cardiovascular disease in humans.
The researchers identified the low-fat milk in a random screening of millions of New Zealand cattle in 2001. They bought her for NZ$300 (AU$265) from her owner, and whisked her away to a secret location where they studied the mutation and the composition of her milk.
“Marge looks like an ordinary Friesian cow but has three key differences, said chief scientist Russell Snell, in an interview with the U.K.’s Sunday Times. “She produces a normal level of protein in her milk but substantially less fat, and the fat she does produce has much more unsaturated fat. She also produces milk with very high levels of omega-3 oils.”
Holy grail is bull
The success of the research hinged on Marge producing offspring with the same genetic mutation.
“The eureka moment was when we found her daughters produced milk like their mother,” said Snell in the same interview. “To have a bull from Marge’s offspring who passes on her traits would be the holy grail. It would allow us to reproduce hundreds of thousands of cows like Marge.”
Marge and her daughters produce milk that naturally contains about one per cent fat – slightly less than ‘light’ milk varieties. Friesian cows ordinarily produce milk with a fat content of around three or four per cent.
“It’s a pretty exciting discovery,” said Paul Donnelly, CEO of the Cooperative Research Council (CRC) for Innovative Dairy Products in Sydney, Australia. “Economically, protein in milk is worth much more than the fat content, so it will be very lucrative, very valuable for the company.”
ViaLactia will have a short article on the research published this week in the British journal Chemistry & Industry. They will release a peer-reviewed paper later in the year.