Scientists from China’s Northwest A&F University, located just outside Xi’an, told local media that they successfully cloned three “super cows” capable of producing 50 per cent more milk than the average Canadian Holstein dairy cow.
The researchers took tissue samples from Holstein cows that produced high volumes of milk and used the “somatic cell nuclear transfer method” to clone them, according to the Global Times. This method of using body cells to create an embryo that is then placed into a surrogate animal was used most famously to clone Dolly the Sheep.
The calves were born last month in Lingwu City, with the first calf weighing 56.7 kilograms and standing 76 centimetres tall. The first calf was born with “the exact shape and skin pattern of its cloned target,” the report notes.
Researchers believe the calves will be able to produce about 18 tons of milk per year, totalling 100 tons of milk over their lifetime.
In comparison, the average Holstein cow in Canada produces roughly 12 tons of milk in 305 days, according to Agriculture Canada data from 2021.
The scientists selected high-performing Holstein cows for cloning.
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The Dutch cattle breed is known to produce a significantly higher than average amount of milk, but the researchers identified that about five in 10,000 Holstein cows in China were “highly productive, long-lived and stress-resistant.”
To preserve these ideal genetics, the scientists decided to clone them. They determined a breeding program for super cows would be too difficult because the cows are “scattered” across China and sometimes are identified as high-performing too late in their lives to take advantage.
The media report notes that China largely relies on importing dairy cows to meet the rising demand for milk and cheese. Jin Yaping, the leader of the research team, believes their super cow project will revitalize China’s agriculture sector.
Jin told Global Times that their experiment produced 120 cloned embryos, 42 per cent of which were implanted into surrogate cows. By day 200, about 18 per cent were still fertile.
“We plan to take two to three years to build up a herd comprised of over 1,000 super cows, as a solid foundation to tackle China’s reliance on overseas dairy cows,” Jin said.