For the first time, pigs have been cloned by artificial intelligence

Cloning has progressed well since Dolly, and as is so often the case today, AI promises to take this discipline to the next level.

Last March, seven healthy little pigs were born in China. But they had privacy. Unlike the majority of their counterparts, they did not come into the world on a farm or breeding center; They came out of a Chinese laboratory after an entirely new type of cloning process, entirely driven by artificial intelligence without any human intervention.

A sentence that sounds straight out of science fiction, but nonetheless suggests a business that couldn’t be more serious. The researchers behind this study believe that this technology can allow China to solve the problem of pork supply, but not only; Over time, it could play a very important role in the future of agri-food on a global scale.

In Dolly’s footsteps

It all started with Dolly the sheep, the famous sheep that became the first mammal completely cloned from an adult cell in 1996. At the time, this was a true feat of bioengineering that took many years of dedication. Because the method of reproduction used has nothing to do with that used in science fiction; Until now, humans have not invented a printer capable of producing an exact replica of an organism in real time.

Dolly made history when she became the first mammal cloned from a somatic cell, that is, a non-sexual cell that is not supposed to be involved in reproduction. © John Chadwick- AP / REX

Instead, they use a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) that begins with genetic manipulation. The researchers began by extracting the nucleus from the mammary gland cells of the animal to be cloned, that is, the part in which the genetic material is concentrated, and it is distinguished that it does not affect the sex cells; It is said that these mammary gland cells physical. It’s a term referring to everyone Non-sex cells, and thus are not presumed to be involved in reproduction.

In another animal, they took eggs and this time emptied them of their genetic material. So they just kept an empty shell. They then combined the cores taken in the previous step with this envelope to recreate the artificial embryos that they then cultured to allow them to grow. One of them eventually matured. and since then All genetic material came from a single original donor, So they are perfect copies, except for some mutations – So we are talking about clones.

Since then, researchers have made significant advances in this technology; Many labs have succeeded in cloning a variety of animals. So some observers expected this technology to become well-established very quickly in the food industry, especially since many authorities such as the US Food and Drug Administration have appreciated this These clones were fit for consumption.

Dolly was cloned using a process called nuclear somatic cell transfer; A long, complex and inefficient approach, which limits its potential in the industry…for now. © Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Traditional cloning is still very complex

But while it was already advanced, mammal cloning did not take place after the absolute industrial revolution that some had predicted. And for good reason: the technique used is time-consuming and demanding precise control from an expert. The latter must also be a very talented manipulator, because transplanting these cores is Very sensitive.

Even among the most skilled laboratory workers, this extremely fragile genetic material is regularly damaged or contaminated. This has the effect of preventing the clone from growing. Moreover, there are a large number of very subtle external factors that can cause a procedure to fail without a person knowing precisely why.

Several years ago, Chinese researchers from Nankai University worked to develop a fully automated cloning system. In 2017, they demonstrated a partially automated TNSC system for the first time. This step is still a long way from their goal, but it allowed them to make a crucial point: machines make far fewer processing errors than humans, so the success rate of cloning is much higher under these conditions.

Artificial intelligence to the rescue

Armed with this experience, they took the next step; They present an AI-based system that is able to perform this procedure with incredible pressure and without any human intervention.

Our AI-based system can calculate the pressure it needs to apply to the cell to force the robot to interfere as little as possible during the cloning process, reducing cell damage caused by human hands.And the numbers prove it right. On average, the success rate of these POCs is about 10%; here, the researchers have reached about 25%, which is a significant increase.

According to the South China Morning Post, the researchers are currently editing a research paper on technical details that will be published in the journal. engineering. So it will be interesting to delve into the matter to discover the technical details of the procedure. They hope their technology will allow China, the world’s largest consumer of pork, to have permanent access to premium quality animals without relying on imports.

But this is only a first step. Ultimately, the researchers consider that robotic cloning technologies – or the micromanipulation of automated cells on a larger scale – will almost certainly have a significant impact on all industries that work directly or indirectly with livestock.

Clearly, there is still a long way to go; This technology is not yet fully mature, either from a technological or from an ethical and regulatory standpoint. But once that happens, we should expect a small revolution in selection, breeding, and perhaps even conservation of species today threatened by overexploitation.

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