A Taiwanese research team has produced the world’s first cloned miniature pigs, as well as improving a method used to clone animals, which only requires about one-third the manpower and one-sixth the cost of the previous approach.
Ju Jyh-chern (朱志成), a professor in National Chung Hsing University’s department of animal science’s reproductive biology laboratory, said most people have heard of Dolly the Sheep — the world’s first cloned sheep which was produced in 1997. The cloning method used at the time was somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).
Although many researchers have since used the SCNT method to successfully produce cloned animals, the cost of the required equipment is high and it takes intensive training of more than a year for researchers to become skilled in the method, Ju said.
The Taiwanese team, comprised of researchers from National Chung Hsing University, Chung Shan Medical University, the Animal Technology Institute Taiwan and Tunghai University, referred to a handmade cloning technology invented by professor Gabor Vajta in 2001, and developed a new technique — Oocyte bisection cloning technology (OBCT).
The breakthrough of the new method lies in the first part of the cloning procedure, making it easier and faster to operate.
“The traditional SCNT cloning method uses a glass micropipette to remove the nucleus from an oocyte [an immature egg cell of the animal ovary], usually removing about one-fifth to one-fourth of the cytoplasm,” Ju said, adding that the method may result in the nucleus not being totally removed and therefore affect the cell’s development.
The OBCT method, based on handmade cloning technology, cuts the oocyte in half and throws away the side with nucleus, resulting in a higher success rate, he said, adding that this procedure can be conducted by one person that has been trained for only a few months, while SCNT needs two to three people to perform the operation.
At present, the team has produced two litters of piglets using the new method, and two pigs of the second litter have given birth to new litters of piglets, Ju said.