For now they’ll be mass-producing cattle, sniffer dogs, racehorses, and the family pooch.
Last month (November 23), the Chinese Biotechnology firm Boyalife Group and Sooam Biotech of South Korea announced that they have partnered up to build the world’s largest cloning factory in Tianjin, a northern port city of China.
Construction on the main building has already commenced and will be open for production in the first half of 2016, Boyalife says. The factory will produce police sniffer dogs, pet dogs, and racehorses, but its primary product will be beef cattle.
Cloning is already being used on cattle in many countries to preserve the genetic profiles of prize-winning heifers and bulls. At last year’s World Dairy Expo, a clone stole the top prize for best red & white holstein while the cow she was cloned from won second prize and the daughter received an honorable mention.
Despite its popularity with competitive breeders, cloning hasn’t reached the average farm mostly because of the enormous cost behind cloning an animal. But if the cloning factory reaches its goals, by 2020, the cloning factory will be mass producing 1 million top-notch beef cattle every year.
But that’s not their ultimate goal. According to the chief executive of the cloning factory, Xu Xiaochun, the factory will eventually venture into human cloning.
In conversation with AFP, the Chinese scientist said that Boyalife Group currently possesses the technology to replicate humans, but fear of the public’s reaction has prevented them from dipping their toes in the water. According to a press release by Boyalife, the new cloning factory will serve to “[edge] the controversial science closer to mainstream acceptance.”
“We want the public to see that cloning is really not that crazy,” Xu told AFP, “That scientists aren’t weird, dressed in lab coats, hiding behind a sealed door doing weird experiments.”
Currently, Chinese farmers are struggling to produce enough beef cattle, and there is already a market for pet cloning. Sooam currently offers dog cloning to “prolong the companionship with your dog.” In a partnership with China National Genebank and North Eastern Federal University, they are also attempting to revive the extinct mammoth from frozen samples, which has generated abundant buzz from the media.
The new cloning facility is expected to receive international applause for its genebank. This feature will allow Boyalife and Sooam to store up to five million cell samples in liquid nitrogen, preserving the world’s endangered species for future regeneration.
Whether this will do anything to soften the public’s perception of cloning remains to be unseen, but laws will remain a barrier if the cloning factory wants their human clones to reach a global market. Human cloning is illegal in Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and South Korea, which is why the cloning facility is being built in China and not South Korea where Sooam is based.
Boyalife and Sooam are already working with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to improve primate cloning for animal testing in disease research. Because of their similarity to humans, this technology is expected to prepare them for successful human cloning.