Several nations’ scientists have made progress in developing cattle cloning technology in the last year. The first cloned cows are now producing milk, which is still being trialled and tested. However, the near future of these technologies is uncertain, since the public’s willingness to consume milk from cloned cows is in doubt.
Early in February 2023, Chinese official media stated that a group of Chinese scientists had successfully cloned three super-cows capable of producing an astounding quantity of milk. The three calves born in the Ningxia area in December and January are exact replicas of extremely prolific Holstein Friesian cows capable of producing 18 tonnes of milk each year, or 100 tonnes of milk during their lifespan.
China has cloned cows.
According to Jin Yaping, one of the key experts, the creation of the super-cows was a breakthrough that allowed China to keep the greatest cows in an economically possible method. He also expressed optimism that cloning technology would assist China in reducing its reliance on foreign breeds.
If cloning technology spreads in China, it will significantly alter the breeding section of the global dairy business. Currently, China imports around 70% of breeding cattle, with a significant portion coming from the EU.
According to Chinese experts, just 5 cows in 10,000 can produce 100 tonnes of milk throughout their lifetime. Highly prolific cows are often recognised towards the end of their lives when standard reproduction procedures are no longer viable.
China wants to generate 1,000 highly prolific clones over the next 2-3 years, which, according to Yaping, will serve as the backbone of a revitalised Chinese dairy sector.
Genetically engineered organisms
China is not the only market where cloning technologies hold great promise. Russia’s first cloned cow gave birth to a healthy calf towards the end of 2022. While Chinese scientists are solely cloning high-productive animals, Russian scientists have begun cloning animals with conventional cow genes tweaked to improve specific features.
Cloning a cow is effectively a trial run for making a gene-edited animal, according to Petr Sergiev, one of the study’s authors, since scientists need to ensure that all of their techniques are in order before implanting the modified embryos. The researchers had previously utilised CRISPR/Cas technology to knock out PAEP and LOC100848610, two genes in the bovine genome that represent beta-lactoglobulin, and generate a line of genetically modified embryonic fibroblasts.
The goal was to produce milk hypoallergenic, but this method may provide much more. The scientists said that gene editing technique might have a wide range of applications, such as increasing yields or making animals more susceptible to heat stress. It is also critical to ensure that the cow can produce healthy progeny. The gene-editing technologies provide dairy producers with practically limitless alternatives for what and how they produce.
“I believe that this work will lay the methodological groundwork for gene editing cattle in Russia, leading to more complex challenges.” For example, we may induce cows to create proteins that they would not ordinarily produce for biotechnological objectives,” he concludes.
Cloned cows, like those used in China, might be useful to the Russian dairy sector, which is looking to reduce its reliance on imports from Western nations as sanctions threaten to disrupt supply.
The Frankenfood Myth
However, there are serious concerns that milk from cloned cows will be available on grocery store shelves in the near future.
“Consumer fears about genetic engineering have been stoked,” said Dr. Bjoern Boergermann, executive director of the German Dairy Industry Association.
European consumers have been hesitant to adopt genetically modified creatures in recent years. The German food retail industry advocated the designation Ohne Gentechnik, or GMO-free, in 2015/2016. Dairies have met the retailer’s demand, and now, over 70% of milk in Germany is produced in this manner.
“The VLOG association establishes the standard and certifies the businesses.” It states that GMO-free is critical for consumers. “These statements are always found in varying forms in consumer surveys, depending on who is asking and how,” Dr. Boergermann stated, emphasising that this is mostly concerning GMO feed.
It is difficult to anticipate how broadly cloning technology would be approved in Russia and China. Several public opinion surveys in Russia demonstrate that 66% of consumers feel GMOs are harmful to their health.
The Chinese government does not believe that people will trust genetically engineered crops. The government initiated a media effort in 2014 to improve public opinion of GMOs, but it had little to no impact. According to a recent study, 46.7% of respondents were opposed to GMOs, with 14% claiming it was a sort of bioterrorism directed towards China.
The European Commission is likely to rule in 2023 on whether items derived from CRISPR/Cas should be subject to GMO laws. So far, this has mostly concerned grain, but given recent advances in cloning farmed animals, the decision might have significant implications for the cattle sector as well. Even if politicians agree, it remains to be seen if public opinion would welcome gene-editing technology.
“In the recent past, NGOs have played out the CRISPR/Cas problem extensively in public. This will happen again when the EU nears a conclusion,” Boergermann said.