A new report by the BBC reveals that China isn't just experimenting with cloning — it's doing it on an "industrial scale". This is at best interesting and at worst more than a small cause for concern.
Spearheaded by a company called BGI, the technology required to clone animals isn't particularly new, but the application to mass production certainly is. In a report for the BBC, David Shukman explains what he saw when he visited the facility in China recently:
The first shed contains 90 animals in two long rows. They look perfectly normal, as one would expect, but each of them is carrying cloned embryos. Many are clones themselves. This place produces an astonishing 500 cloned pigs a year.
Sows are anaesthetised, and then have blastocysts — early stage embryos prepared in a lab — inserted into their uterus. The team can do two transplantations a days, and achiever a hit-rate of about 80 per cent. Disturbingly, Shukman explains that the operating theatre is "not air-conditioned; nor is it particularly clean. Flies buzz around the pig's head."
This all happens in an old shoe factory Shenzhen. Part sci-fi dream, part dystopian future, this is essentially a cloning factory and, clearly, it's fast becoming an industry. Indeed, as well as being the world's largest centre for cloning pigs, this place is also the world's largest centre for gene sequencing. It's home to 156 gene sequencers; by comparison, Europe's largest gene sequencing centre, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge, UK, has 30.
According to BGI's chief executive, Wang Jun, the goal is to produce better healthcare and tastier food (the staff canteen actually serves produce created in-house). In many ways, that's pretty cool — this was supposed to be future, but it's happening here and now — but the sheer pace and questionable standards described by Shukman provide at least some cause for concern. [BBC]