Scientists isolating 'useful' genes in milk

By Chris Mercer

- Last updated on GMT

International experts in nutrition and genomics will meet in
California to discuss the progress of research into links between
the genetic make-up of milk and human health.

The two-day event, to take place on 10 and 11 November, will be the second 'Symposium on Milk Genomics and Human Health' to have been held by the California Dairy Research Foundation (CDRF).

A number of high-profile researchers are expected to attend, including Martin Grigorov of the Nestlé Research Centre in Switzerland, highlighting the dairy industry's growing interest in the potential benefits of genome research.

A University of California project has spent the last year building up a databank containing the different genes making up milk. Researchers from the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the Netherlands and Switzerland have all taken part.

From this, the team aims to discover more about how certain genes contribute to the make-up of milk and what their role is; for example, which molecules are linked to certain health benefits and how.

"The study of genomics allows us to go beyond simply understanding that milk is beneficial and challenges us to discover precisely how and why,"​ said Prof. J. Bruce German of the University of California.

The research offers obvious advantages for firms looking to enhance products or make specific health claims.

And, from a nutritional point of view, German added that the project should improve a producer's ability to position products for specific consumers; something highlighted as a major area of interest by market research group Euromonitor​, in a recent global dairy products report.

The researchers will present an up-date on their work at the November symposium. Last year's event led to the formation of the global Milk Genomics Consortium. For more information on this, contact the CDRF

The process of systematically collecting biological information on computers for analysis, known as bioinformatics, is also the focus of a new, year-long project in the UK.

Scientists at Britain's Campden and Chorleywood Food Research Centre want to show how the technique could be relevant to food and drink firms in a variety of situations.

John Dooley, a scientist on the project, believes bioinformatics are most likely to help firms predict the allergenicity and functionality of products by examining their ingredients' protein structures.

He said that by identifying the right proteins it may even be possible to replace or remove certain ones to reduce the likelihood of a product causing an allergic reaction in the consumer.

Dooley added that although bioinformatics technology was progressing quickly, it was still in its infancy in relation to these processes. "At this stage the information is not there, but the project will help the industry to know that they could have it in the future."

The technology remains fairly imprecise because it is hard to predict what different proteins will do, even if they appear similar to others.

Proteins and genomes often have multiple tasks too, and so it is hard to know what side-effects may be caused by altering, removing or replacing them.

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