Cloning animals used to be a taboo subject – but not in China, where a Shenzhen facility clones 500 pigs every year. The farm, run by a company called BGI, implants around two pigs a day with cloned embryos. Clones and clones of clones are raised and used to test out new medicines in a converted shoe factory, which operates alongside a facility of genetic sequencing processors.
BGI’s facilities are the world’s largest for cloning pigs, but their methods are less sophisticated than comparable facilities around the world. Rather than using machines, BGI uses man power, employing an assembly line of 30 to 50 workers to carry out the cloning and implanting process by hand. The newborn clones then go on to be implanted with cloned embryos later in life, perpetuating the process.
Along with the pig clones, the researchers also conduct gene sequencing, creating litters of genetically modified pigs with tweaked DNA to make them more susceptible to illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s, that the medicines they are testing aim to treat. But BGI isn’t just interested in the gene sequencing of pigs. The labs contain giant gene sequencing machines that run gene codes incessantly, for everything from food to animals. With 156 gene sequencing machines, BGI’s facilities trumps the second largest gene sequencing center in the world, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, which boasts only 30 machines.
With these gene sequencers, BGI plans to sequence the genomes of one million people, one million animals and one million plants, with the claim to develop better health care and tastier food. BGI employees serve as taste testers, using the company cafeteria to test out genetically-enhanced meats, vegetables and even yogurt. BGI claims that all of this tinkering with nature is not meant to harm; instead they aim to provide food for the starving, improve medicines, and develop better tasting food.