News Article | November 28, 2015
The largest animal cloning factory in the world is now likely underway in China — a path “no one has ever travelled” in cattle cloning and meeting the country’s skyrocketing demand for beef. The projected 14,000-square-meter factory will be built and operated by Boyalife, which is allotting 200 million yuan ($313 million) for the project. Tianjin, a city situated about 100 miles from the Chinese capital, will be the site of the grand venture to be started in the first half of next year. According to Boyalife's chief exectuive Xiao-Chun Xu, they are hoping at the moment to produce 100,000 cow embryos annually and to contribute five percent of China's premium cattle. “We are building something that has not existed in the past,” said Xu in an interview. Boyalife scientists will also explore cloning champion racehorses as well as sniffer dogs that can assist in rescue operations or detect illegal drugs. Xu added that helping save critically endangered species is another one of their targets. “This is going to change our world and our lives,” the CEO said of the factory, which is among the latest moves of China to lead in cloning technology worldwide. According to a Hong Kong publication, mainland Chinese scientists have already been cloning pigs, sheep, and cattle for around 15 years now. Another media outlet reported last year that Chinese firm BGI was cloning on an industrial level in the city of Shenzhen, said to be producing 500 cloned pigs per year. The planned cloning factory is built in partnership with Sooam Biotech, a South Korean firm run by Seoul-based Hwang Woo-suk. Hwang, once dubbed the “king of cloning,” was found guilty in 2006 of fraud and gross ethical lapses in his research and ways of obtaining human eggs for his lab work. In a conference call held on Thursday, Nov. 26, Xu tried to quash anxieties over the new project and the technology behind it. “Clone technology is already around us. It’s just that not everyone knows about it,” he said, citing that bananas and strawberries sold in Chinese grocery stores were produced by this very technology. He likened the process to “pouring a glass of orange juice into another empty glass,” implying that the cloned product will be an exact copy of the original one. He also noted that cloned beef is the “tastiest” beef he has ever had. In the United Kingdom, cloned cow meat and milk products are classified as “novel foods” and need to come with a special permission to be sold. The Food Standards Agency in 2010 investigated beef coming from the offspring of a cow cloned in the U.S. entering the food chain. The European Food Safety Authority — while pointing out no difference between meat and dairy from clones and conventionally raised animals — said cloning may lead to animal health and welfare issues. It underlined the impact the process has on the increasing number of deaths at all stages of development. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration ruled cloned animals as safe to eat. Although the Chinese cloning factory operation appeard to be smaller than American firms seeking to sell cloned livestock, most cloned cattle in the U.S. serve as breeding stock for raising herd quality rather than for food supply.
Rienzi L.,Genera Center For Reproductive Medicine |
Vajta G.,BGI |
Ubaldi F.,Genera Center For Reproductive Medicine
Human Reproduction Update | Year: 2011
Background: Non-invasive selection of developmentally competent human oocytes may increase the overall efficiency of human assisted reproduction and is regarded as crucial in countries where legal, social or religious factors restrict the production of supernumerary embryos. The purpose of this study was to summarize the predictive value for IVF success of morphological features of the oocyte that can be obtained by light or polarized microscopic investigations. Methods: Studies about oocyte morphology and IVF/ICSI outcomes were identified by using a systematic literature search. Results: Fifty relevant articles were identified: 33 analysed a single feature, 9 observed multiple features and investigated the effect of these features individually, 8 summarized the effect of individual features. Investigated structures were the following: meiotic spindle (15 papers), zona pellucida (15 papers), vacuoles or refractile bodies (14 papers), polar body shape (12 papers), oocyte shape (10 papers), dark cytoplasm or diffuse granulation (12 papers), perivitelline space (11 papers), central cytoplasmic granulation (8 papers), cumulus-oocyte complex (6 papers) and cytoplasm viscosity and membrane resistance characteristics (2 papers). None of these features were unanimously evaluated to have prognostic value for further developmental competence of oocytes. Conclusions: No clear tendency in recent publications to a general increase in predictive value of morphological features was found. These contradicting data underline the importance of more intensive and coordinated research to reach a consensus and fully exploit the predictive potential of morphological examination of human oocytes. © The Author 2010. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. Source
The first genome of a gecko species hints at the basis of its ability to regrow tails and climb walls. More than 1,400 species of gecko inhabit temperate areas across the world. A team led by Huanming Yang at BGI in Shenzhen and Xiaosong Gu at Nantong University, both in China, sequenced the genome of Schlegel's Japanese gecko (Gekko japonicus; pictured) and identified more than 22,000 genes. Comparisons with other reptile and vertebrate genomes show that geckos diverged from other lizards around 200 million years ago, after the split of two supercontinents. The gecko genome harbours dozens of copies of β-keratin genes — expressed in hair-like growths called setae that help the animal to cling to vertical surfaces. Expression of two genes that make the hormone prostaglandin increased in geckos after their tails had been amputated, suggesting a role for this hormone in regeneration.
Formidable capacity in genome sequencing, access to millions of patients and the promise of solid governmental support: those are the assets that China hopes to bring to the nascent field of precision medicine, which uses genomic, physiological and other data to tailor treatments to individuals. Almost exactly one year after US President Barack Obama announced the Precision Medicine Initiative, China is finalizing plans for its own, much larger project. But as universities and sequencing companies line up to gather and analyse the data, some observers worry that problems with the nation’s health-care infrastructure — in particular a dearth of doctors — threaten the effort’s ultimate goal of improving patient care. Precision medicine harnesses huge amounts of clinical data, from genome sequences to health records, to determine how drugs affect people in different ways. By enabling physicians to target drugs only to those who will benefit, such knowledge can cut waste, improve health outcomes using existing treatments, and inform drug development. For example, it is now clear that individuals with a certain mutation (which is mostly found in Asian people) respond better to the lung-cancer drug Tarceva (erlotinib; W. Pao et al. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 101, 13306–13311; 2004), and the discovery of a mutation that causes 4% of US cystic fibrosis cases led to the development of the drug Kalydeco (ivacaftor). The Chinese government is expected to officially announce the initiative after it approves its next five-year plan in March. Just how much the effort will cost is unclear — but it will almost certainly be larger and more expensive than the US$215-million US initiative. Since last spring, Chinese media has been abuzz with estimates of a 60-billion yuan (US$9.2-billion) budget, spread over 15 years. But this figure is not finalized, cautions Zhan Qimin, director of the State Key Laboratory of Molecular Oncology at Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, who is involved in the initiative. He says that the effort will consist of hundreds of separate projects to sequence genomes and gather clinical data, with support for each ranging from tens of millions of yuan to more than 100 million yuan. Anticipating the initiative, leading institutes — including Tsinghua University, Fudan University and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences — are scrambling to set up precision-medicine centres. Sichuan University’s West China Hospital, for instance, plans to sequence 1 million human genomes itself — the same goal as the entire US initiative. The hospital will focus on ten diseases, starting with lung cancer. Both the US and the Chinese efforts will focus on genetic links to diseases that are particularly deadly, such as cancer and heart disease. But China will target specific cancers, such as stomach and liver cancer, which are common there. The Chinese initiative is part of a series of research-funding efforts that will replace two major grant programmes, known as 863 and 973, that are due to be phased out by 2017. The new programmes will be “more organized, more efficient”, says Zhan. Genome-sequencing companies are already vying to provide services to deal with the anticipated demand. For several years, China has boasted high genome-sequencing capacity. In 2010, the genomics institute BGI in Shenzhen was estimated to host more sequencing capacity than the entire United States. This was thanks to its equipment, purchased from Illumina of San Diego, California, which at the time represented state-of-the-art technology. But Illumina has since sold upgraded machines to at least three other genomics firms — WuXi PharmaTech and Cloud Health, both in Shanghai, and the Beijing-based firm Novogene. Jason Gang Jin, co-founder and chief executive of Cloud Health, says that this trio, rather than BGI, will be the main sequencing support for China’s precision-medicine initiative — although BGI’s director of research, Xu Xun, disagrees. Xu says that precision medicine is a priority for BGI and that the organization has a diverse portfolio of sequencers that still gives it an edge. “If you are talking about real data output, BGI is still leading in China, maybe even globally,” he says. BGI has already established a collaboration with the Zhongshan Hospital’s Center for Clinical Precision Medicine in Shanghai, which opened in May 2015 with a budget of 100 million yuan and is run by Fudan University. Regardless of the details, Jin thinks that China will be faster than the United States at sequencing genomes and identifying mutations that are relevant to personalized medicine because China’s larger populations of patients for each disease will make it easier to find sufficient numbers to study. Still, it remains to be seen whether China has the resources to apply these insights to the individualized care of patients. “China wants to do it, and everybody is very excited,” says Ta Jen Liu, project director at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, who helps to establish collaborations in China and is familiar with the precision-medicine scene there. But there are hurdles. He notes that Chinese researchers and pharmaceutical companies have not had much success in developing drugs so far; that the pathologists needed to diagnose specific diseases are scarce in China; and that physicians there are notoriously overworked. “Doctors are always overwhelmed with patients, seeing 60 or 70 a day,” he says. “They don’t have time to sit down and think about what is best for specific patients.” David Weitz, a physicist at Harvard University who is starting a company in Beijing to develop diagnostic instruments for use in precision medicine, agrees that there will be obstacles, but notes the initiative’s assets. “We need lots of data to validate ideas, to validate tests,” he says. “There’s lots of data here.” He thinks that this, combined with the Chinese government’s determination to succeed, will mean that the effort will ultimately win out. “They really seem devoted to meeting the needs of the society,” he says. “It’s an exciting thing, to try to help that many people.”
Clues to novel treatments could be gleaned from people who aren’t sick, but should be. The hunt is on for people who are healthy—even though their genes say they shouldn’t be. A massive search through genetic databases has found evidence for more than a dozen “genetic superheroes,” people whose genomes contain serious DNA errors that cause devastating childhood illnesses but who say they aren’t sick. The new study is part of a trend toward studying the DNA of unusually healthy people to determine if there’s something about them that can be discovered and bottled up as a treatment for everyone else. There’s already evidence from large families afflicted by genetic disease that some members are affected differently—or not at all. The current study took a different approach, scouring DNA data collected on 589,306 mostly unrelated individuals, and is the “the largest genome study to date,” according to Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York. “There hasn’t been nearly enough attention paid to looking at healthy people’s genomes,” says Eric Topol, a cardiologist and gene scientist at the Scripps Institute. “This confirms that there are many people out there that should be manifesting disease but aren’t. It’s a lesson from nature.” The researchers, led by Stephen Friend, president of Sage Bionetworks, a nonprofit based in Seattle, and genome scientist Eric Schadt of Mount Sinai, reported today in Nature Biotechnology how they looked for people with mutations in any of 874 genes that should doom them to a childhood of pain or misery, but whose medical records or self-reports didn’t indicate any problem. In the end, they found 13 people who qualify as genetic “superheroes” but, under medical privacy agreements, were unable to contact them. That meant the scientists weren’t able to learn what’s actually different about them. “It’s like you got the box and couldn’t take the wrapping off,” Friend said during a media teleconference last week. The team consulted DNA data from nearly 400,000 people provided by 23andMe, the direct-to-consumer testing company. The team also used more detailed genome information contributed by BGI, a large genome center in China, and the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. “The best approach to discovering large numbers of resilient individuals will involve data sharing on a global scale, involving many sequencing projects,” says Daniel MacArthur, who developed a pooled DNA database at the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which he says also holds evidence of resilient individuals. Some companies, including the biotechnology company Regeneron (see “The Search for Exceptional Genomes”), have already started large searches for people whose genes seem to protect them against disease. Regeneron's focus is on common illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. Mayana Zatz, a geneticist in Sao Paulo, Brazil, who studies large families affected by inherited disease, says she’s found instances where people seem to dodge genetic destiny. For example, she located two Brazilian half-brothers with the same mutation that causes muscular dystrophy, but while one was in a wheelchair at age nine, the other is 16 and has no symptoms. Zatz says the reason could be some other gene that “rescues” the patient, or perhaps environmental factors. She says women are more often found to be resilient than men, though the reason isn’t clear. Friend says his “extraordinarily large pilot” study is meant to determine if the same sort of discoveries made by looking at affected families could be made by dredging large DNA databases. “The purpose was to see if the technology is ready, and worth the effort, and we think the answer is yes,“ he says.