Technology helps China brace for population growth

Fri Sep 17, 2010 8:24am EDT
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By Tan Ee Lyn

BAIHUA, China (Reuters) - Chinese geneticist Du Yutao peers at an ultrasound monitor scanning the underbelly of a pregnant sow -- one of China's latest technological tools to feed its people better.

The 20-odd hogs at this farm in Guangdong province in southern China are no ordinary pigs, but rather surrogate sows carrying cloned piglets.

With a population projected to grow to 1.44 billion by 2030 from 1.33 billion in 2009, according to World Bank figures, Beijing is hunting for cutting-edge technology to provide better quality food.

Du's colleagues are cloning pigs at a laboratory an hour's drive from the farm.

They remove DNA from skin cells taken from the ear of a prized boar and transfer them into pig egg cells cleared of their nuclei. The resulting embryos are surgically implanted into surrogate sows.

"Now we import valuable boars from Denmark and the United States. They are costly to buy, transport and susceptible to a lot of disease during transportation," said Du, head of cloning and genetic engineering at the Beijing Genomics Institute.

"With this technology, we can import small numbers of pigs and mass produce them in China."

And international experts believe China can take a leading role in promoting the eventual acceptance of cloned animals and even transgenic -- or genetically modified (GM) -- produce.   Continued...

<p>China's first cloned pig, stuffed and displayed, is seen in front of a researcher working at the Beijing Genomics institute in Shenzhen July 23, 2010. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu</p>