Thursday, May 15, 2014

Goddamn fascinating article. It seems the Chinese government is engaged in a massive effort to clone -- not breed -- pigs. The government believes that it's better to find a pig they like (low-fat, gains weight fast, disease-resistant, etc.) and then clone it. Put 15 cloned eggs into a sow, and get 15 exact duplicates. Do this 5,000 times over, so you get tens of thousands of the same pig -- easily, not worrying about breeding will-they-or-won't-they.

It'd never be possible in the West. The mass use of animal experimentation going on in China would be immoral here. The Chinese don't consider it so. For example: In the West, industrial farms go out of their way to use antibiotics, clean housing, and other techniques to minimize animal deaths (techniques called "herd health") and maximize efficiency. In China, up to a quarter of all hogs raised die of preventable disease. The Chinese consider it "the cost of business" and see no reason to tamper with it.

It's interesting how the Chinese see human labor as cheaper than machines. It's probably true.

Genome sequencing was pioneered in the U.S. by a company called Human Genome Sciences. Dr. William A. Haseltine and Dr. J. Craig Venter jointly founded the company to sequence the human genome and translate the findings into biotech medical products. Because genes are not directly patentable, they set up a nonprofit company to do the actual sequencing. This company, The Institute for Genomic Research (TIGR), applied a new process for gene sequencing.

While NIH's Human Genome Project was starting at the beginning of the genome and going to the end, TIGR's process was to allow a PC (they were Apple computers) to work on only a tiny fragment This was akin to allowing a single, small computer to determine the shape and color of a jigsaw puzzle piece. Because there are only four amino acids, and we know only some acids link to other acids, all the computer had to do was start trying to match piece to piece. Another computer would take the two-piece match, and try to match it to another two-piece match. And so on, and so on. It was hundreds of times faster than the slow HGP method.

That process is what the Chinese are using. The computers are specially-designed computers whose sole function is to match amino acid to amino acid as fast as possible, and start figuring out the jigsaw puzzle.

Interestingly, almost no one really thinks its the actual genome that is the key. The real key is what genes are turned on and off in each organ of the body. Which genes are turned on and off ("expressed"), the order in which they are expressed, and which genes remain expressed once the organ is formed and running are the key.

I think that is what the Chinese are doing. They are not sequencing 10,000 human genomes (although they might be); they are sequencing the actual organs, to start that process of digging ever deeper into just how genes created people, create disease, create disease-resistance, and create taste, growth, etc.

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