The world's largest cloning factory, Boyalife Group in China, possesses an advanced technology capable of replicating human beings, AFP reported on December 1, 2015. The company is currently not using the technology to create a human clone, due to highly controversial moral and ethical questions arising on the issue. They do, however, aim to become the world's first supplier of cloned beef.
Boyalife Group of experts in cooperation with their partners are currently building a plant in Tianjin, northern China. Works on the plant are expected to finish over the next 7 months. The project's goal is to produce 1 million cloned cows by 2020, and the experts already have the highly prestige technology, capable of replicating humans.
According to Xu Xiaochun, the chief executive of the project, the company is expecting to replicate bred racehorses and domestic and police dogs, as well.
In order to improve the technique for primate cloning and facilitate better test animals for the purpose of medical research, the factory is cooperating with Sooam company from South Korea and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Because this is only a small step away from producing a human clone, important series of moral and ethical questions has been raised.
"The technology is already there. If this is allowed, I don't think there are other companies better than Boyalife that make better technology," Xu said.
Despite the existing technology, Xu emphasized the company is currently not engaged in any experiments that would lead to creating a human clone, because of the controversial potential included. He does believe, however, different times might be coming, as human values and opinions are subject to change.
"Unfortunately, currently, the only way to have a child is to have it be half its mum, half its dad. Maybe in the future you have three choices instead of one. You either have fifty-fifty, or you have a choice of having the genetics 100 percent from Daddy or 100 percent from Mummy. This is only a choice."
The capacity in Tianjin is expected to house a bank of genes holding up to about 5 million frozen cell samples, kept in a liquid nitrogen as a catalog of the world's most endangered species which could be regenerated in the due course of time. Thus, the future plant presents the cloning project as a certain biodiversity safeguard.
Sooam partners are currently involved in a project of bringing back the woolly mammoth, a long extinct species, the cells of which have been perserved for a few thousands years in the Siberian permaforst. The South Korean company already serves a niche market by recreating customers dead pet dogs, according to AFP.
The founder of Sooam, Hwang Woo-Suk, created the world's first cloned dog, Snuppy in 2005. At the time, his controversial claims of being the first company in the world to clone a human embryo have been discredited and had cost him the university position. He was also accused for violating bioethics laws of South Korea.
Because the South Korean bioethics law prohibits the use of human eggs, media reported Hwang was planning to engage in cooperation with his Chinese neighbors, earlier in 2015.
"We have decided to locate the facilities in China in case we enter the phase of applying the technology to human bodies," Hwang was quoted at the time.
However, for the time being, none of it is planned, according to the official reports. Boyalife Group is aiming to become the world's first purveyor of cloned beef to meet the demands of China's economy.
Some controversy exists however, over the issue of how safe the cloned beef might be for human consumption. According to US Food and Drug Administration, the food has passed the safety regulations, but the European parliament has enforced a ban on cloned animals and products. UN's Food and Agriculture Organization is yet to reach the verdict on the matter.
Han Lanzhi, a GMO safety specialist at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said Boyalife’s claims about the safety, scope and timeline of their operations are not plausible, as the process of getting the approval is very drawn-out.
"There must be strong regulation because as a company pursuing its own interests, they could very easily do other things in the future," she explained.
However, Xu was more reassuring on the matter: "We want the public to see that cloning is really not that crazy, that scientists aren’t weird, dressed in lab coats, hiding behind a sealed door doing weird experiments," he concluded.
Featured image: Cloned sheep's, Artistic image. Image credit: Barbara Eckstein (Flickr-CC)