Domestic Goat as a Drug Manufacturing Facility

Domestic goats in India have piqued the interest of biotechnology companies looking to produce therapeutic proteins in large quantities.

Goat domestication

  • The domestic goat (Capra hircus) is a common sight in rural India and many other developing countries.
  • Since its domestication around 10,000 years ago, the goat has played an important economic role in human communities.
  • It has even been suggested that domesticating goats was a significant step in humanity’s transition from a hunting-gathering lifestyle to agricultural settlements.

Numerous breeds found in India

  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the world has 830 million goats of approximately 1,000 breeds.
  • India has 150 million people of various breeds, including-
    • Marwari: Rajasthan has the most number of goats — the Marwari goat found here is hardy and well-adapted to the climate of deserts.
    • Osmanabadi: Another hardy breed, found in the dry regions of Maharashtra, Telangana and North Karnataka is the Osmanabadi.
    • Malabari: Also known as Tellicherry in North Kerala, it is a prolific breed with low-fat meat that shares characteristics with the Punjabi beetal goat.
    • The east Indian Black Bengal goat is an important contributor to the livelihoods of Bangladesh’s rural poor. It contributes more than 20 million square feet of skin and hide to the global demand for leather goods, ranging from firefighter gloves to fashionable handbags.
    • Jamunapari: These Uttar Pradesh goats were chosen because they produce 300 kg of milk in eight months of lactation. When the Jamunapari arrived in England, it was crossed with local breeds to produce the Anglo-Nubian, a champion producer of high-fat milk.

Why are goats important to farmers?

  • Goats have a relatively short generation time of about two years.
  • The general benefits of goat milk outweigh those of high-fat buffalo milk.
  • As many farmers lack the space or funds to rear cattle, the goat is rightly called “the poor man’s cow”.
  • Goats have no specific fodder requirements. It can even feed on neem leaves.

Significance in therapeutics: Antithrombin production

  • Biotechnology companies interested in producing therapeutic proteins in large quantities have turned to goats.
  • ATryn, a goat-produced antithrombin III molecule, was the first to be successful.
  • Antithrombin prevents blood clots, and its deficiency (which is usually inherited) can result in serious complications such as pulmonary embolisms.
  • Affected people require antithrombin injections twice a week, which are usually purified from donated blood.
  • Recently, the FDA approved monoclonal antibody cetuximab as an anti-cancer drug against certain lung cancers was also produced in cloned goat lines.

Why is it a significant development?

  • Transgenic goats with a human antithrombin gene copy have mammary gland cells that release this protein into milk.
  • It has been claimed that one goat can produce antithrombin equivalent to 90,000 units of human blood.
  • This method can produce large quantities (10 grammes per litre of milk).
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