9 June 2022

Trying to clone a pig? there’s an AI for that

Clinical The Back Page

Ee i ee i ... oh no.

Every so often your ageing correspondent comes across reports of technological developments which not only amaze, but also prompt a simple question: “What could possibly go wrong?”

Today’s example of this phenomenon involves a triumvirate of concerns: cloning, robotics and pigs.

Thanks to a report in the South China Morning Post, we learn that Chinese scientists have come up with a fully automated process for cloning pigs that reduces the chance of errors occurring, which happens when you let us pesky humans do the job manually.

The AI-powered pig-cloning system is the brainchild of researchers at the University of Nankai’s College of Artificial Intelligence.

The boffins told the Hong Kong-based newspaper that their robotic technology “facilitated the birth of seven piglets via surrogate sow, without any human involvement” and that the  system could potentially lead to commercialised cloning becoming a norm.

Which makes you ask, why do this?

The answer lies in China’s efforts to boost its food security.

It’s fair to say the Chinese love their pork, with the average per-capita consumption weighing in at 30kg a year. And even though more than half of that nation’s meat production is pigs, China still needs to import more than a million tonnes of pork a year to meet demand.

Part of this is due to a swine flu outbreak in China in 2018-19 which decimated the breeding stock, and Beijing is keen to see that country heading back towards self-sufficiency as soon as possible.

Hence the enthusiasm for adding robotic cloning into the pork producing mix.

Now your correspondent enjoys a bacon sandwich as much as the next carnivore, but are we are we absolutely, positively certain we should be doing this?

If you see something that hogs your attention, let penny@medicalrepublic.com.au know all about it.