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“Animal Cloning Factories Only the Beginning”
by Tom Alago   
December 8th, 2015

About two decades back, Dolly the sheep became the world’s first and most famous mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. Fast forward to 2015: cloning is now much more commonplace and in ‘open season’. 

China is one nation that well exemplifies the growth rate of the cloning industry - she is now working on a ‘cloning factory’ to produce cattle, racehorses and pets. China has been cloning sheep, cattle and pigs for the past 15 years and is now taking it all to a whole new level.

The factory, which will include a 15,000 square meter laboratory, an animal center, a gene bank and an exhibition hall, is currently being built in the port city of Tianjin, near Beijing, and is due to open in the first half of 2016. Neil Connor’s recent account for The Telegraph states that the animal “cloning factory” will be the world’s biggest, producing one million calves a year, sniffer dogs and even genetic copies of the family pet.

The core motivation for this project is being fronted as mainly due to the increasing interest in agricultural biotechnology, spawned by beef shortages. Chinese farmers are reportedly battling to provide enough beef for the country’s growing middle class and eager to find ways to increase supply. The price of meat is said to have tripled between the years 2000 to 2013 in response to market demand.

According to Chinese Media, the £21 million ($32 million) “commercial” facility will edge the controversial cloning science “closer to mainstream acceptance." The new facility will initially produce 100,000 cattle embryos a year, eventually increasing to one million.

Connor notes that the center may cause alarm in Europe, where the cloning of animals for farming was banned in September due to animal welfare considerations. Another influential factor for the ban was that the cloning process was described as “not fully mature”. 

The European Parliament’s environmental committee co-rapporteur, Renate Sommer, protested the apparent lack of progress, stating: “The mortality rate remains equally high. Many of the animals which are born alive die in the first few weeks, and they die painfully. Should we allow that?"

However, Xu Xiaochun, chairman of Chinese biotechnology company BoyaLife that is backing the facility, dismissed such concerns in an interview. Implying that it was cheap politics rather than “scientific rationale or ethical rationale” that was behind Europe’s ban, Xiaochun concluded: “Legislation is always behind science. But in the area of cloning, I think we are going the wrong way and starting to kill the technology.”

Xiaochun said his new facility will clone racehorses and a handful of dogs for people with “emotional ties” to their pets, but its main focus was producing cattle. He was also reportedly keen about the factory’s ability to churn out sniffer dogs: “The dog has to be smart and obedient, strong, sensitive…That's one in one hundred. You would normally have to look at a large number of dogs to find this one."

Xiaochun’s views would certainly be popular with many animal lovers worldwide. Not just with pet owners who love their pets and want to see them ‘live on’ through cloning, but also with owners of special and champion breeds. 

According to, Adolfo Cambiaso, has cloned dozens of his favorite horses with great success. Cambiaso is so keen that he has become a partner in a cloning company, Crestview, which has its own laboratory near Buenos Aires. 

One day, he’s said, he’d like to play in an entire match that involves only cloned horses. They are turning out to be in hot demand. In 2010, a clone of one of Cambiaso’s best horses, Cuartetera, sold for $800,000.

BoyaLife will reportedly operate the facility with its South Korean partner, Sooam Biotech, which runs a centre that can clone dogs for customers willing to pay $100,000 (£66,000). Sooam Biotech has already produced more than 550 puppies. Company head Hwang Woo-Suk was considered a national hero when he pioneered the world’s first cloned dog in 2005, although his research into creating human stem cells was found in 2006 to have been faked.

The cloning culture also continues to grow in the U.S, as recent developments show. Amy Harmon for the New York Times reported that with the federal government’s approval last week of a fast-growing salmon as the first genetically altered animal Americans can eat, a menagerie of gene-edited animals is already being raised on farms and in laboratories around the world — some designed for food, some to fight disease and some, perhaps, as pets.

Harmon lists a number of other examples:

• Bull calves being bred in Sioux City, Iowa were genetically modified to have their DNA edited by scientists at a start-up company called Recombinetics, so that they do not grow horns. In a few months, their sperm will be harvested, each with edited DNA, which will be used to create a new generation of hornless cattle.

• The value of this development is said to be to in the discontinuation of the physical dehorning process which may produce injuries to cattle and is “considered to be quite painful”, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. 

• With a tool called Talens, Recombinetics says it has created gene-edited pigs that can be fattened with less food and Brazilian beef cattle that grow large muscles, yielding more meat that may also be more tender. 

• Others are working on chickens that produce only females for egg-laying and cattle that produce only males since females are less efficient at converting feed to muscle.

• Researchers reported having edited mosquitoes so that they will no longer carry the parasite that causes malaria. 

• Bruce Whitelaw, a professor of animal biotechnology at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh has changed three genes in domesticated pigs vulnerable to African swine fever, which can devastate herds, to resemble those from wild pigs that are resistant to the disease. He is now breeding them to put them to the test.

• Chinese researchers have produced meatier cashmere goats that also conveniently grow longer hair for soft sweaters, miniature pigs lacking a growth gene to be sold as novelty pets and bulky beagles lacking a muscle-inhibiting gene, an edit that could make for faster dogs.

• Using the most powerful of the new tools, called Crispr-Cas9, in pursuit of treatments for human disease, researchers are also altering pigs in hopes of making them grow human organs and creating “gene drives” that would ensure that the edit to make mosquitoes malaria-proof, for instance, would spread through the whole population.

• The National Science Foundation is underwriting an effort to create dairy cattle that can resist a parasite that causes sleeping sickness in sub-Saharan Africa, a blight often treated with an antimicrobial drug that ended up making its way into the meat consumed by humans.

• Bhanu Telugu, a University of Maryland researcher, is trying to design pigs so they can no longer serve as a reservoir for the flu virus.

Animal breeders seem to be among the most ardent supporters of genetic modifications, since they offer time shortcuts to natural breeding processes. This gene-editing trend is certainly snowballing in momentum, but is not without its risks. 

Concerns and warnings abound, including some from scientists and bioethicists. This despite many of the seemingly noble and beneficial rewards that mankind stands to reap from gene-editing successes. 

Harmon observes that the discussion of gene-edited animals in farming, in particular, will most likely be colored by the existing debate over the merits of genetically engineered food, notably genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. For decades largely centered on corn and soybeans, altered with older technology to resist pests and tolerate herbicides. 

Although embraced by many farmers and scientists, retailers and the general public continue to view them with a measure of suspicion.

Another concern cited is that many of the new generation of edited animals contain DNA from another species, a frequently cited concern among opponents of genetically engineered foods, which incorporate genes from bacteria. Other concerns vary and range from the fear of deformities and unforeseen developmental and health complications in the future.

Advocates of the technology argue that it can make farming more efficient to help feed a growing world population with less impact on the environment. Today’s chickens, for instance, reportedly produce nearly 80 percent more meat for the same amount of feed as the chickens of the 1950s. All courtesy of genome technology.

Still, some consumer advocates urge caution in applying techniques that are still so new to animals that will be consumed as food. Gene-editing tools are known to sometimes make changes to genes other than their intended targets, raising flags about how the changes might affect an animal’s health or the composition of milk or meat. 

Therefore, they urge for great caution with the tools. Others insist that no gene editing should be allowed without proper regulation and general public support.

Yet others seem to disagree with any form or extent of gene-editing. David Byer, a spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says people should stop consuming dairy or meat or eggs, rather than further manipulating animals by playing with their DNA.

The Food and Drug Administration has reportedly not said how or whether it will regulate the gene-edited animals to come. But even with the government’s stamp of approval, biotechnology advocates know that farmers are unlikely to embrace technology if they fear consumers will reject it.

Only time will tell to what extent the gene-editing processes will overshadow the benefits, as medical science continues with its attempts to play God by interfering with the natural processes of life and creation.

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