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Cloned 'super cows' may help reduce reliance on imports

By HU DONGMEI in Yinchuan and ZHANG ZHIHAO | China Daily | Updated: 2023-02-06 09:07
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Scientist feeds a cloned cow. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Chinese scientists have cloned three "super cows" able to produce 18 metric tons of milk per year and more than 100 tons of milk over the course of their lifetimes, which may help reduce China's dependency on imported dairy cows.

The milk produced is no different from that produced by the clone's genetic parent, according to an expert involved in the experiment. Once the cloned calves reach two years of age, they can start producing milk for the market, he added.

To clone the animals, scientists from the Northwest University of Agricultural and Forestry Science and Technology took somatic cells from the ears of highly productive Dutch Holstein Friesian cattle and placed them in surrogate cows, according to a news release from the university.

The technique, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, was the same used to create Dolly the sheep in 1996, the world's first cloned mammal.

The three calves were born before Spring Festival in Lingwu city, Ningxia Hui autonomous region. The first calf was born on Dec 30 via cesarean section and weighed 56.7 kilograms and shared the same shape and patterning as the cow it was cloned from.

After reaching maturity, it is expected to produce 18 tons of milk per year. In comparison, the average cow in the United States produces about 12 tons of milk annually, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture.

Jin Yaping, the project's lead scientist, said that cloning "super cows" would allow China to preserve its best dairy breeds and avoid the biosecurity risk presented by importing live cows from other countries. China currently imports around 70 percent of its dairy cows.

"We plan to raise a herd of 1,000 super cows in two to three years. This will provide key support in creating our own breeding bulls and dairy cows, thus easing China's dependency on importing cattle," Jin said.

After news of the cloned cows broke, many netizens wondered if it was safe to drink their milk. In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration in the US concluded that meat and milk from clones are as safe as equivalents from conventionally bred animals.

Wang Bingke, one of the scientists involved in cloning the cattle, said that the milk was the same as that produced by the original cows.

"There is no gene editing involved in the process, so the cloned cow is just like the genetic parent, and thus the milk's nutritional value is the same," he said.

In recent years, China has made great progress in animal cloning. Notable feats include the world's first cloned monkey in 2017 and the world's first cloned Arctic wolf in 2022.

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