China is on its way to becoming the first country to clone humans by building the world's largest animal cloning factory, according to reports emerging in its state media.
The factory, which is being built in China's northeastern port of Tianjin, is a joint venture between Chinese biotechnology firm Boyalife and the South Korean company Sooam. Set to become operational by early next year, the facility will be the largest animal cloning factory in the world when completed, the reports added. By 2020, China aims for an output of one million cloned cows a year.
More remarkable, however, is the fact that China believes that cloning cattle at a mass scale is only the beginning of its ambitious plans.
The Chinese scientist responsible for leading the project, Chief Executive Xu Xiaochun, says that the country already has the technology to clone humans, but is "restraining" itself from doing so for fears of a public backlash, according to an interview he granted to AFP.
"The technology is already there. If this is allowed, I don't think there are other companies better than Boyalife that make better technology."
At the moment, cloning humans is a hugely divisive issue, with severe ethical and moral complications. Many believe that science should only go so far as not to tread on the naturally evolving world around us.
But Xiaochun believes that China will eventually become the first country to clone humans -- because as he pointed out -- values are subject to change. Citing our changing perception of homosexuality, he said that in time humans will prefer to 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 fifty-fifty, or you have a choice of having the genetics 100 percent from Daddy or 100 percent from Mummy. This is only a choice."
Meanwhile, once China reaches its initial goal of producing one million cloned cows in the next five years, it will then go on to clone thoroughbred racehorses, as well as pet and police dogs, specialized in searching and sniffing, according to Discovery.
The partner companies, Boyalife and Sooam, are already working in conjunction with the Chinese Academy of Sciences to improve primate cloning capacity to create better test animals for disease research. If that comes to pass, China says, it could completely overhaul the way we test drugs.
Furthermore, the world's largest animal cloning factory in Tianjin facility will also house a gene bank capable of holding up to approximately five million cell samples frozen in liquid nitrogen -- a catalog of the world's endangered species for future regeneration, reports Yahoo.
That is not all. China is also looking at the possibility of bringing certain species back from extinction. One project, which aims to bring back the woolly mammoth back from extinction by cloning cells preserved for thousands of years in the Siberian permafrost, is already underway.
South Korean news agencies also report that the South Korean company, Sooam, is having to plan a cloning factory in China "because of South Korea's bioethics law that prohibits the use of human eggs".
"We have decided to locate the facilities in China in case we enter the phase of applying the technology to human bodies," said Sooam founder Hwang Woo-Suk, who has earlier claimed to be the first person in the world to clone a human embryo.
Cloning of animals is not new in China. The country has been cloning animals including sheep, cattle and pigs for food for the last 15 years.
However, not everyone is happy about it, both inside and outside China. Han Lanzhi, a GMO safety specialist at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, said the way Boyalife is going about cloning animals is extremely alarming.
"There must be strong regulation because as a company pursuing its own interests, they could very easily do other things in the future," she said.
The European Parliament banned the cloning of farmed animals earlier this year due to concerns regarding the welfare of animals.
Nonetheless, China is all set to go ahead with its plans to build the world's largest animal cloning factory by the end of 2015.
[Photo by Chung Sun-Jun / Getty Images]