For anyone wondering what strange or foreboding things 2016 might bring, heres one clue. We've had car production plants for many years, churning out thousands of standard cars in factory production lines. This year, we might well see thousands of 'standard cows' being churned out in factory production lines. Hows that for a change?
We arent talking toy cows here either, or even the storyline in some twisted 'stranger than fiction' movie script. As reported by Abby Haglage in the dailybeast.com, we really are likely to see the rise of mass-produced animal clones, thanks to an "enterprising and madcap" scientist in China named Xiao-Chun Xu.
Xu is a Chinese-born doctor who founded a massive stem-cell database with the help of seven research institutes in 2009. Three years later, he founded Boyalife Group, a $2 billion venture with four locations and 22 subsidiariesthe newest is Boyalife Genomics. Xu is also an adjunct professor of molecular medicine at Peking University, where hes heralded as an expert in everything from arthritis to oncology.
His company called Boyalife Genomics will open a massive factory in the coastal Chinese city of Tianjin, where it plans to clone 100,000 cattle per yeara way to address the Middle Kingdoms rising appetite for beef. Eventually, the company aims to clone 1 million cattle a year, as well as other animals like champion racehorses and drug-sniffing dogs.
The mass cloning process would obviously not be as smooth, fast or straightforward as is typical with the production of manufactured goods. Haglage explains that reproductive cloning in animalsthe same type that could, in theory, be used on humanscomes with immense risk. The percentage of cloning efforts that succeed is generally between 1 and 4 percent. In the few clones that survive, birth defects abound - ranging from brain deficiencies to drastically shortened life spans.
Since Dolly the sheep was cloned two decades back, the possibilities of expanding and diversifying the cloning process has been out there, but no-one could have anticipated the mass-production of cloned animal on the same scale as consumer goods by 2016. Cloned humans - or as Boyalifes founder Xiao-Chun Xu calls them, "Frankensteins"are not yet on the menu.
Other bizarre 'sci-fi cloning craze' examples that have been in the works for animals include the following:
- Members of a Florida nonprofit try to clone a 2000-year-old tree;
- A South Korean company clones two puppies in an attempt to reincarnate a British couples beloved dead dog;
- The reported cloning of 700 puppies since the opening of the largest of these companies, Sooam Biotech in 2004. The South Korean firm actually paired with Xu to create Boyalife Genomics.
As eerie as it may all sound, its still all legal in China and the United States. Europe has been more squeamish though and has so far resisted tagging along. In August, the European Union edged closer to outlawing the practice altogether, with the EU Parliament voting in favor of a sweeping cloning ban that would include farm animals.
Could the transition progress to the mass cloning of humans? Haglage observes that laws surrounding the cloning of humans remain murky. In the U.S., there is no federal law explicitly banning human clones - which is not to say that the practice is wholly legal.
At least 15 states have passed legislation regarding human cloning - eight of which prohibit it entirely. The UN General Assembly banned the practice in 2005 and the science world as a whole rejects it as unethical and unsafe.
No wonder that Xu is steering clear of that area and staying 'clone-correct' by current legal and social standards. A recent nbcnews.com article quotes Xu: "No, we don't do human cloning, we won't make Frankensteins... the technology we have is very advanced ... [but if uncontrolled] technology can also do damage ... Every technology has to have a boundary."
A British couple is certainly glad that the boundaries with regards to cloning animals are less strict. A recent article by Brian Mastroianni published in cbsnews.com narrates the story of Laura Jacques and Richard Remde of Yorkshire, England.
The couple made headlines when they paid nearly $100,000 to have two puppies cloned at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in South Korea using DNA from their deceased boxer dog, Dylan that had been sent to the firm two weeks after his death in June.
This was noteworthy for being the longest period of time after an animal's death when DNA was successfully recovered for cloning; the previous record had been five days.
"I'm trying to get my head round the fact that this puppy has 100% of the same DNA as Dylan," Jacques told The Guardian newspaper. "I had Dylan since he was a puppy ... I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world."
This kind of heartwarming story that stirs the hopes and dreams of pet lovers worldwide is an example of why Xu and company are likely to be in business for a long time. However, not everyone is impressed with the processes required or even the concept. It turns out that the issues may well outweigh the benefits when animal rights are taken into account.
According to Diane Taylor in a recent report for the guardian.com, the RSPCA has expressed concern about dog cloning.
A spokesperson said: "There are serious ethical and welfare concerns relating to the application of cloning technology to animals. Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates. There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumors, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns."