Zoom in on microorganisms

Genetic engineering and the dairy industry: a question of productivity?

Production of somatotrophineZoomZoom (136KB)
© Illustration Nicole Catellier, Cinémanima inc.

Industry is always on the lookout for new ways to improve production. Dairy producers were therefore very interested in the discovery of somatotrophin, a naturally occurring hormone that controls milk production in cows. The ability of somatotrophin injections to considerably increase milk production was rapidly confirmed. Today, genetically modified bacteria are used to produce the somatotrophin that is administered to milk cows.

Russian researchers were the first to isolate somatotrophin, also known as BST (bovine somatotrophin), extracting it from the cow hypophysis, a gland situated at the base of the brain. In England, attempts were made to apply this knowledge during World War II, when milk shortages were severe. But at that time, it took 20 hypophyses (and therefore, 20 dead cows) to obtain enough hormone for one cow for one day!

Thanks to genetic engineering, somatotrophin can now be produced using the bacterium E. coli.