China 'has tech to clone human being'

World's biggest cloning factory due to launch soon in Tianjin to clone cows, horses, dogs

Three cloned puppies in an incubator at a facility in Tianjin, China taken on Sept 24, 2014 and released by Boyalife Group. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING • The Chinese scientist behind the world's biggest cloning factory has technology advanced enough to replicate humans, he said, and is holding off only for fear of the public reactions.

Boyalife Group and its partners are building the giant plant in the northern Chinese port of Tianjin, where it is due to go into production within the next seven months.

It is targeting an output of one million cloned cows a year by 2020.

But cattle are only the beginning of chief executive Xu Xiaochun's ambitions.

In the factory pipeline are also thoroughbred racehorses, as well as pet and police dogs.

Boyalife is already working with its South Korean partner, Sooam, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences to improve primate cloning capacity to create better test animals for disease research.

And it is a short biological step from monkeys to humans - potentially raising a host of moral and ethical controversies.

"The technology is already there," Dr Xu said.

"If this is allowed, I don't think there are other companies better than Boyalife that make better technology."

The firm does not currently engage in human cloning activities, Dr Xu said, adding that it has to be "self-restrained" because of possible adverse reaction.

But social values can change, he pointed out, citing changing views of homosexuality and suggesting that, in time, humans could have more choices about their own reproduction.

"Unfortunately, currently, the only way to have a child is to have it be half its mum, half its dad," he said.

"Maybe in the future, you have three choices instead of one.

"You either have 50-50, or you have a choice of having the genetics 100 per cent from daddy or 100 per cent from mummy."

Dr Xu, 44, went to university in Canada and the United States, and has previously worked for US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, and in drug development.

Presenting cloning as a safeguard of biodiversity, the Tianjin facility will house a gene bank capable of holding up to about five million cell samples frozen in liquid nitrogen - a catalogue of the world's endangered species for future regeneration.

South Korean partner Sooam is already working on a project to bring the woolly mammoth back from extinction by cloning cells preserved for thousands of years in the Siberian permafrost.

Sooam also serves a niche market recreating its customers' dead pet dogs.

Its founder, Dr Hwang Woo Suk, was a national hero before being embroiled in controversy a decade ago after his claims to be the first in the world to clone a human embryo were discredited.

Dr Hwang, who created Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog,

in 2005, lost his university position, had two major papers retracted, and was accused of crimes ranging from violation of bioethics laws to embezzling research funds.

Earlier this year he was quoted in South Korea's Dong-A Ilbo newspaper as saying that his company was planning a cloning joint venture in China "because of South Korea's bioethics law that prohibits the use of human eggs".


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 02, 2015, with the headline China 'has tech to clone human being'. Subscribe