Chinese scientists have successfully cloned three “super cows” that can produce an unusually high amount of milk, state media reported, hailing it as a breakthrough for China’s dairy industry to reduce its dependence on imported breeds.
The three calves, bred by scientists from the Northwest University of Agricultural and Forestry Science and Technology, were born in the Ningxia region in the weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year on January 23, the state-run Ningxia Daily reported.
They were cloned from highly productive cows from the Holstein Friesian breed, which originated in the Netherlands. The chosen animals are capable of producing 18 tons of milk per year, or 100 tons of milk in their lifetimes.
That is nearly 1.7 times the amount of milk an average cow in the United States produced in 2021, according to the US Department of Agriculture.
The first of the cloned calves was born on December 30 by cesarean section due to its relatively large size of 56.7 kilograms (120 pounds), an official in the city of Wulin in Ningxia told the state-run Technology Daily.
The scientists made 120 cloned embryos from the ear cells of the highly productive cows and placed them in surrogate cows, according to the Technology Daily.
Jin Yaping, the project’s lead scientist, called the birth of the “super cows” a “breakthrough” that allows China to preserve the very best cows “in an economically feasible way,” the state-run newspaper Global Times reported.
Only five in 10,000 cows in China can produce 100 tons of milk in their lifetimes, making them a valuable resource for breeding. But some highly productive cows are not identified until the end of their lives, making it difficult to breed them, Jin said.
As much as 70% of China’s dairy cows are imported from overseas, according to the Global Times.
“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 and the issue of the risk of being ‘choked’ [by supply chain disruptions],” Jin told the newspaper.
In many countries, including the United States, farmers breed clones with conventional animals to add desirable traits, such as high milk production or disease resistance, into the gene pool.
China has made significant progress in animal cloning in recent years.
Last year, a Chinese animal cloning company created the world’s first cloned Arctic wolf.
In 2017, Chinese scientists said they produced cloned cattle with increased resistance to bovine tuberculosis, a risk to cattle in many countries.