China Has the World's First 'Cloning Factory'
BGI is producing about 500 pigs a year without Mother Nature
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 15, 2014 4:00 PM CST
File photo of pigs produced the old-fashioned way.   (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

(Newser) – Remember when a cloned animal was a big deal? Welcome to the brave new world in Shenzhen, China, where the company BGI is churning out 500 cloned pigs a year, reports David Shukman at the BBC. Shukman got a tour of the facility and even watched the surgical procedure in a not-so-sanitary operating room—two sows are implanted a day, with a success rate of about 80%. "The technology involved is not particularly novel," he writes, "but what is new is the application of mass production." In fact, one company scientist uses the phrase "cloning factory" to describe what's going on. The pigs are being produced not to eat but to be the subjects of drug tests; many have had their genes modified to make them, for example, more susceptible to Alzheimer's.

On the genetics front, the company has a staggering 156 gene-sequencing machines on site (Europe's largest gene-sequencing center has one-fifth that amount) and even bought a US company that makes them. What lucky animals make the cut? "If it tastes good you should sequence it," says BGI's chief executive. "You should know what's in the gene of that species." Also, "anything that looks cute: panda, polar bear, penguin, you should really sequence it." The company says it's all for the greater in good terms of food production and health care. "In many ways, that's pretty cool," writes Jamie Condliffe at Gizmodo. "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." (More wild cloning news: Scientists clone "unclonable" tree.)