China Successfully Clones 'Super Cows' for First Time Ever

Chinese scientists successfully used cloning technology to combat its dependence on imported dairy cows.

Scientists from China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region recently cloned three Holstein Friesian cows. As China's middle-class population grows, the demand for items like milk and various seeds is increasing. However, according to an article by Global Times, a tabloid published by the People's Daily, China must import 70 percent of its dairy cow population from overseas. The cloning experiment was to bring more dairy access to the nation and reduce the country's reliance on others.

The cows were cloned using tissue from a Holstein Friesian known as a super cow, a dairy cow with very high milk production that is created through a selective breeding process. Holsteins are known for their milk production, and the super cows will be able to produce up to 36,000 pounds of milk a year. Shortly after the pandemic, China increased its dairy imports from the United States. AgriPulse reported that in 2021, China's dairy imports from America jumped by 75 percent.

Cows graze in China; American milk
Cows graze on grassland near Shangri-La in China's southwestern Yunnan province. Scientists in China recently successfully cloned super cows to reduce the country's dependency on other nations for imported dairy cows. China dairy imports from America skyrocketed in 2021. GETTY

Northwest A&F University scientists took a sample from one super cow's ear and used it to create the clones. The Global Times article said only a very small number of Chinese dairy cows are highly productive, only five in 10,000, and the cloning efforts could massively increase the country's dairy production. A very small number of the cattle are considered super cows, and China has worked to preserve the genes to bolster its herd of highly-productive cows.

According to a press release from Northwest A&F University, the new calves resembled each other in shape and skin pattern.

Project lead Jin Yaping told Global Times that reproductive technology was used in conjunction with cloning technology, and the embryos were implanted in low-production surrogates. The combination of reproductive and cloning technology led to the three successful calves.

The first experiment created 120 cloned embryos, with roughly 50 implanted in the surrogates.

Jin said since the clones were successful, scientists will take the next several years to build a herd of more than 1,0000 super cows. Jin called the project a "solid foundation to tackle China's reliance on overseas dairy cows."

China has increased its efforts in becoming a self-reliant nation by focusing on seed technology to improve access to vital seeds and create a food-secure nation. The successful cloning of dairy cows is not China's first venture into using cloning technology to improve access to food. In 2015, The Guardian reported that construction on the world's largest animal cloning factory was beginning. The Chinese company was planning to expand in Beijing with hopes to clone up to 1 million beef cattle a year, as well as plans to clone racehorses and pets.

According to the Global Times article, scientists are also conducting similar breakthrough studies with items like corn, soybeans, broiler chickens and breeding pigs.

Newsweek reached out to Northwest A&F University for comment