A Chinese company called Boyalife Genomics is planning to open a factory the size of three football fields in Tianjin this year, and what they’ll be manufacturing is… cows. Clone cows. 100,000 of them per year to start, but company founder Xiao-Chun Xu dreams of cranking that production level up to a million per year.
The Daily Beast reports that Xu’s vision ultimately includes mass-producing other useful animals as well, such as race horses and drug-sniffing dogs.
Industrial cloning on this scale has never been attempted before, but the Daily Beast portrays Xu, 44, as a serious player, with the educational and entrepreneurial background to make it happen — he has a Ph.D. from Washington University, worked as a project manager for Pfizer, and serves as an adjunct professor of molecular medicine at Peking University. His new project is reportedly attracting a great deal of interest from investors.
NBC News notes that beef consumption is growing at double-digit rates in China, but the Chinese cattle industry has not previously focused on large-scale meat production, and domestic beef has been of low quality.
The cow-cloning factory will use essentially the same procedure that created Dolly the clone sheep in the 90s: injecting template DNA into an egg, then inserting the egg into a female animal to carry the engineered egg to term.
The technique has been refined over the ensuing decade to the point that large-scale cloning operations are possible — a South Korean firm that has been cloning dogs to soothe the broken hearts of pet owners is helping Boyalife Genomics set up their cow factory.
There are already some cow-cloning operations up and running, such as Trans Ova Genetics in the United States, which produces about 100 cloned calves per year, plus pigs and horses. The Tico Times explained in a June 2014 article about Trans Ova that cloning could “boost the production of animal protein to feed the world’s growing population” by producing lines of livestock guaranteed to possess desirable characteristics such as “leaner meat, higher milk production, and disease resistance.”
This is essentially what conventional breeders are trying to accomplish by selling sperm and eggs from prize animals, but cloning keeps that blue-ribbon DNA flowing for far longer than a single living animal could manage through the traditional collection of sperm or eggs.
Critics of cloning argue that clone animals have higher mortality rates, and the pregnancies are more difficult for the mother animals. While the sale of food products from cloned animals is currently legal across most of the world (and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration), a ban on cloning animals or importing their products has been proposed in the European Union.
Xu sounded almost as excited about his plans to clone bomb-sniffing dogs in the CNBC article, describing such animals as “a major force in anti-terrorism campaigns.” He said his factory would “select the really top dogs for cloning, like selecting only those who could go to Harvard or Peking University.”
So why not use cloning techniques to manufacture a generation of humans who could all qualify for Harvard or Peking University? This is the question about cloning that haunts the scientific community. Virtually every scientific organization around the world denounces human cloning experiments as immoral. So does Xu, but he doesn’t quite see them as unthinkable, at least not on a long enough timeline.
“We don’t do human cloning, we won’t make Frankensteins,” he told NBC News, adding that our “very advanced” clone technology could “also do damage” if not controlled properly. “Every technology has to have a boundary,” he declared, seeming to draw that boundary at human cloning.
However, later in the same interview, Xu says that “technology is moving very fast, and social values can change.” He mused that in a century or two, people might think differently and decide that human cloning could “benefit the human race as a whole,” optimistically predicting that his Boyalife company would still be around to adapt to such changing “social values.”
As Xu puts it, one of the major ethical arguments against human cloning is that it would reduce genetic diversity: “We really don’t want the entire society to become one billion Einsteins.” If operations such as Boyalife’s million clone cows per year lead to refined reproductive cloning techniques that can transmit highly desirable traits without otherwise compromising diversity, some people might decide custom-made super-children are worth a minor hit to overall human bio-diversity.
Another primary argument against human cloning is that many cloned embryos die before coming to term or develop such severe defects that they must be aborted. How is that any sort of an obstacle to human cloning, given modern abortion-extremist dogma? Why should any abortion warrior care if it takes three or four unsuccessful attempts to produce a super-child? That’s just three unviable tissue masses terminated in 100 percent moral surgical procedures, precisely equivalent to the removal of warts. The failed cloning experiments could even produce useful organs and tissue for harvesting in those 100 percent ethical operations Planned Parenthood was obliged to defend last year.
Why, exactly, should anyone on the left care if the cow and dog-cloning assembly line in China leads to industrial human cloning, whose results include a line of superior, perhaps even custom-tailored children… and a 400 percent increase in the number of early- and mid-term abortions, to deal with the results of failed cloning attempts? That sounds like a win-win for the titanic U.S. abortion industry.
If Dr. Frankensteer’s mad-scientist plan to manufacture a million cows a year works out — and the Chinese demand for beef makes it sound like a fairly solid investment — he might see orders for humans rolling in two centuries ahead of schedule.