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Who is Cloning Humans? Chinese Stem Cell Factory Ready to Clone People
Cloning goes mainstream
Science fiction or science fact? Boyalife factory in China now has the technology to clone human beings. The giant clone replication factory in Tianjin, a harbour town in the north of China, will be ready to go into production within seven months – June 2016. The factory, however, will not be cloning people but cattle for the Chinese food market. It aims to produce either one hundred thousand or a million cows by 2020 – depending on which source you read.
Boyalife Group, China, can clone human beings
The corporation behind the advance stem cell production factory is Boyalife Group, a Chinese corporation funded to the extent of $2 billion by the Chinese government. The corporation came into being some three years after the establishing of the International Consortium of Stem Cell Research (INCOSC) in China (a vast research and development laboratory covering 250 acres). INCOSC comprises the Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh, Scotland) which originally cloned Dolly, the sheep, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Peking University, Sichuan University, the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine, and two anonymous contributors. As the Boyalife Group states “INCOSC was established with the Participation of 7 large research institutes from Europe, USA and China,” it can be assumed that the two anonymous stem cell laboratories are probably American.
The Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics in the United States helped set up the Hinxton Group, a collaboration of British and American scientists determining the ethical and moral structures of stem cell research. At this point, these groups have their work cut out for them as cloning people may well be determined to be unethical.
The meat market
CEO, Xu Xiaochun, educated at Canadian and American universities, plans to produce cloned beef using genetically identical super-cattle to cater to the hugely successful Chinese middle class who enjoy the taste of Kobe beef.
Xu also maintains that food has never been uniform because each animal that is brought to slaughter is different to the other. With cloning, all meat will be identical. Will cloned beef be safe to eat?
The US Food and Drug Administration says yes, the European parliament has banned it, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has not yet made a decision.
Cloning horses and pet dogs
Plans for the future include cloning race horses as well as dogs for pets and police. Police dogs would have genes modified to increase sniff and search capabilities while pets would be replicates for pet owners who lost a cherished pet.
Boyalife’s South Korean partner, Sooam, has set up in China in order to avoid Korea’s bioethics laws which ban the use of human eggs in stem cell research. Sooam plans on selling cloned pet dogs to grieving owners at $100,000 each. The company is also currently working on cells obtained from the mammoth discovered a few years ago from the Siberian permafrost. He hopes to create the world’s first wooly mammoth. Shades of Jurassic Park.
Technology to clone people is available
Cloning primates and human beings
One other market which Boyalife is invested in is the cloning of primates – monkeys. These would be used for researching disease, effectively lab animals. Some would consider the ethics of animals born in a lab, being experimented on in a lab, and dying in a lab.
CEO Xu states that there is very little difference between cloning a primate and cloning a human being. “The technology is already there,” he says. He also states that the only reason that Boyalife is not yet involved in cloning human life is that the possible backlash against the lab would be financially damaging.
He does point out, however, that things change, that gay marriage is now accepted, and that attitudes towards cloning a child may well be very different in a few years. If so, his lab is ready. Currently all children carry half the genes of each parent; in the future, replication methodologies may allow parents to have three choices. The first would be to maintain the status quo (half of each parent’s genes), the second choice would be only to have the mother’s and the third choice only to have the father’s.
Gene banks for future regeneration of endangered species
With an increasing number of species becoming extinct as a result of human beings encroaching on their environment plus the effects of climate change, cloning may well offer the only opportunity to bring back species that have disappeared from the wild.
With this in mind, and as part of the cloning procedures, the Research and Development laboratory at Tianjin is being built to house some five million different gene samples which will be frozen utilizing liquid nitrogen.
There are already several operating gene banks throughout the world, including the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway for storing planet seeds, a gene bank at the San Diego zoo for endangered animals, and the current project by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) to store DNA sequences for 10,000 vertebrae species.
Public comment from the Chinese
When Boyalife announced its intention on its website, the reaction from the Chinese was somewhat negative. It was suggested that the owners of the company be the first to eat the cloned beef so that they would suffer its effects before marketing it to the people. There was also a heavy element of distrust as Sooam founder and CEO, Woo-suk Hwang, was jailed in 2009 for embezzling research funds and purchasing human eggs illegally. His integrity is also in doubt as a result of claiming to be the first in the world to clone a human embryo, but had, in fact, not done so.
The general feeling is suspect that Boyalife is making claims that cannot be substantiated. Han Lanzhi from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences said that the timeline for the kind of endeavour that Boyalife is claiming would not make output feasible by 2020. She noted that regulations were strict and that obtaining permission from the Chinese government would take a long time.
Pig Cloning in Shenzhen, China
Boyalife is not the only cloning factory in the world. BGI implants embryos into two pigs each day and produces about 500 cloned pigs every year. These pigs are used as lab animals to test out new drugs for different diseases. Genetically modified pigs are also part of the animal cloning facility, although the factory does not indicate what these pork critters are used for. The factory also plans to sequence one million human genomes, another million planet genomes, plus a million animal genomes. There are other smaller cloning factories in the world as well.
Would you clone a beloved pet?
Would you clone your pet if s/he died?
DNA sequencing of gifted children in China
A documentary available on youtube entitled DNA Dreams: Bio-Science in China, explores the work done at BGI in their Cognitive Genomics Group in their hope to find the genetic solution to intelligence. What is interesting is that the leader of this facility is 23 year old Zhao Bowen and the average age of the scientists at the facility is 24. Time magazine names Zhao Bowen is one of hte next generation's leaders.
The future is now
We have arrived. That which was nothing more than a Star Wars notion or a sheep by the name of Dolly is now a money making business. We are cloning for food (beef). We are cloning for emotional satisfaction dogs). We are cloning for experimentation (lab animals). And we are cloning to cure disease and save endangered species.
What say you?
© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger