A team of researchers from the College of Artificial Intelligence at Nankai University in China has developed a fully automated method to create pig clones. For the first time, seven healthy cloned piglets were born to a surrogate mother in March without any human intervention using the same method.
China is currently the biggest pork producer and consumer in the world. The pig population in the country stands at over 400 million, and pork consumption is between 30 and 35 kg per capita. A large share of the meat eaten in China is pork, and the available stock in the country is never enough to meet the demand. This is why China has to import millions of tons of expensive pig meat every year; even in 2021, the country purchased 3.31 million metric tonnes of pork.
Liu Yaowei, one of the researchers at Nankai University, believes that their AI-powered automated pig cloning method can significantly increase China’s pig population and make the country completely self-sufficient in pork production.
Robotic pig cloning method is a better alternative
An important fact is that pork from pig clones is not the same as lab-grown meat because the latter is developed from cultured cells prepared in laboratory conditions. In contrast, the former is produced from the cells of an original pig. Interestingly, cells of cloned animals can also be used to create lab-grown meat as well. The methods currently used for animal cloning or pig cloning require human involvement at various stages.
This increases the risk of error during cloning and involves several other complications. For instance, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a popular animal cloning technique, requires a human being to remove the nucleus from an animal’s egg cell so that a somatic cell (capable of producing any tissue to facilitate cloning) can be put in its place. During the process, the delicate cells often get damaged or contaminated due to human involvement.
Chinese agricultural scientist Pan Dengke, known for inventing the method to clone pigs using robots, previously created thousands of pig clones by employing SCNT. Due to the difficulties and physical struggles he faced during the process, Dengke ended up having severe back pain issues. He believes that the new AI-based automated method has the potential to revolutionize the pig cloning segment.
The team at Nankai University also cloned pigs using robots in 2017 but the process required effort from human contributors. Researcher Yaowei suggests that compared to human-operated pig cloning, the success rate of robotic pig cloning is much higher with robots. They don’t make any errors or damage the cells during the process.
So this time, they developed a fully-automated cloning process that didn’t involve any human operations. Further explaining the efficiency of their AI pig cloning method, Yaowei said, “our AI-powered system can calculate the strain within a cell and direct the robot to use minimal force to complete the cloning process, which reduces the cell damage caused by human hands.”
Moreover, since the automated process does not require any human involvement, it saves the researchers from the physical hardships they faced during traditional cloning methods. A study covering the details of this AI-based cloning technique is yet to be released. Still, the researchers claim that the successful implementation of their approach can help raise China’s pork production and advance animal cloning strategies employed across the globe.