China is now cloning pigs “on an industrial scale,” according to BBC News, which takes us on a virtual tour of the Beijing Genomics Institute to view the new techniques being used to 'mass produce' cloned versions of the animal.
The BGI is the world’s largest center for cloning animals. It produces 500 cloned pigs a year for gene sequencing of the species—in other words, to continue to produce animals that have specific characteristics.
The Beijing Institute has a gene-sequencing center with 156 machines, compared to Europe’s largest--the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge, with 30.
Wang Jun, the BGI’s chief executive, said they choose what species to sequence on the basis of whether it “tastes good”, or if it “looks cute” – “anything that looks cute: panda, polar bear, penguin, you should really sequence it - it's like digitalizing all the wonderful species," he told the BBC.
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PIGS “MASS PRODUCED” FOR MEDICAL TESTING
Because pigs share a genetic structure similar to humans, the BGI ‘mass produces’ pigs to test out new medicines and techniques to treat diseases such as Alzheimer's, Wang Jun says.
Technicians insert fiber-optic probes into the sow’s uterus before implanting early stage embryos pre-prepared in a laboratory. These implantations are carried out twice daily and have a 70 to 80 per cent success rate.
Many of the animals being held there have been genetically modified in some way, the BBC reports, and some of the pigs are actually clones of clones.
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The Institute was founded in 1999 and plans to replace expensive machines with people for quicker and cheaper ‘handmade cloning.
"We can do cloning on a very large scale," lead scientist Dr Yutao Du said, indicating that it only requires thirty to fifty people to create a cloning factory.
BRITAIN PLANS TO EXPORT PIG SEMEN TO CHINA
Despite being home to half the world's pigs – and the largest consumers of pork in the world - authorities in Beijing are concerned about the quality of their stock.
In December, Prime Minister David Cameron struck up a trade deal between Britain and China which will see the UK exporting pig semen to Chinese farmers in a deal worth £45 million (almost $74 million in USD.)
So British boars are under pressure to upgrade their genetic make-up, as at least four artificial insemination centers are scheduled to start exporting sometime this year.