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China goes hi-tech to feed growing population

posted 31 Oct 2010, 11:58 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 31 Oct 2010, 12:01 ]
With China's population projected to grow to 1.44 billion by 2030, a genome institute in Shenzhen is researching cutting-edge technologies, from animal cloning to genetic engineering, to better feed the nation. Tara Cleary reports.
SHENZHEN AND BEIJING, CHINA - Scientists in China are looking for ways of using these … to feed ... a rapidly increasing  population.

A population that's projected to grow to 1.44 billion by 2030 according to World Bank figures.

And these pigs at a cloning institute in southern China are the foundation of their efforts.

These are surrogate sows, carrying cloned piglets.

Head of cloning and genetic engineering at the Beijing Genomics Institute, Du Yutao explains the goal.

Head of Cloning and Genetic Engineering at the Beijing Genomics Institute, Du Yutao, saying:

"If we have this technology and we can make it really commercialized we can apply it into this field and we can import very small amount of pigs and then make them, make the mass production or expansion just here locally in China."

The scientists remove DNA from skin cells of a prized boar and transfer them into pig egg cells cleared of their nuclei.

The resulting embryos are surgically implanted into surrogate sows.

And while cloning is highly controversial, especially when it comes to food...Du Yutao believes it's totally safe.

Head of Cloning and Genetic Engineering at the Beijing Genomics Institute, Du Yutao, saying:

"I think more and more evidence has proved that cloned animals are safe and they don't have much difference from the normal ones. I think the Chinese government will also find a solution to prove it."

And it's not only meat that's being replicated.

Rice is China's staple food, but feeding 22 percent of the world's population using only seven percent of the world's arable land is a huge challenge.

And to make matters worse, rice cultivation uses 50 percent of China's fresh water each year.

Genetically modified, or GM crops are the answer, says Geneticist, Zhang Gengyun.

Geneticist, Zhang Gengyun, saying:

"If we can use the GMO food to use the water more efficiently that would save more fresh water. That would be very, very useful in the future."

It's too early to establish what negative impacts cloned food might have in the long-term.

But the statistics in China are compelling. And with no other alternatives, the search for hi-tech answers continues apace.

Tara Cleary, Reuters.