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Danish Institute of
Agricultural Sciences
Blichers Allé
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DK-8830 Tjele

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Denmark’s first cloned pigs are born

The first cloned animals ever born in Denmark are now a reality. The biotechnological wonders were created using a brand new method, developed by a scientist at the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences.

Pink and slippery, the first of three piglets leaves his mother, sow number 1327, in the sow unit at the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences. The date is 8 June 2006, the time 14.10.

The newborn piglet is oblivious to the fact that he is nothing less than a biotechnological sensation in Denmark. This summer afternoon has seen the birth of the very first cloned animal in Denmark – indeed in all of Scandinavia. His arrival to the world is soon followed by those of his two cloned brothers and by 14.45 the birth of this unique of litter of piglets is complete.

The mastermind behind the clones is professor and senior scientist Gabor Vajta at the Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences (DIAS). He has worked with a team of scientists from DIAS, the Royal Veterinary and AgriculturalUniversity and AarhusUniversity to produce the cloned animals.

Trailblazing technique

Not only is the fact that the first cloned animals have been born in Denmark a sensation. The technique used is also a complete novelty. Gabor Vajta has developed a new, simple and inexpensive method to clone animal embryos that he calls “handmade cloning”.

The method costs about the same as an automobile in Denmark and can be carried out under simple laboratory conditions. With the sows at DIAS he and his team are testing the handmade method against the traditional cloning method, which was used for the pioneer birth of Dolly the sheep in Scotland and several animals since.

Sow number 1327 contains embryos produced using both methods. Within three days after birth, using DNA analysis, it will be possible to identify which of the piglets stem from each of the two methods. The number of healthy piglets born will be the measure of success for each method.

This first litter of pigs will not have the spotlight for themselves for long. There are already more little clones on the way. Three confirmed pregnancies are due in July and two more unconfirmed pregnancies are due later this summer.

Cloned pigs help humans

Once the new cloning method has been tested the next step is to clone transgenic pigs, i.e. pigs that have been genetically engineered.

- Here at DIAS our focus is on producing cloned pigs that have heritable diseases such as Alzheimer’s or diabetes so that we can use them for research in human diseases. This is not only an important perspective for human health; it also has commercial potential, Gabor Vajta predicts and states that he expects DIAS to become the cloning centre of Denmark and possibly all of Scandinavia.

- Pigs are the best qualified for human experiments. They are cheap to produce and there is plenty of practical experience with pig production. Pigs have the same size as humans, the same metabolism - and same behaviour, Gabor Vajta adds jokingly.

Gabor Vajta was also the “father” of the first cloned animal of Africa, a calf that was born in 2003. The method was developed and used successfully during his stay at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia but was tested first under demanding conditions in a small laboratory near Pretoria, South Africa. The method was then further developed and modified for pig cloning in Denmark.

At DIAS the cloning team consists of Gabor Vajta, Ph.D. student Yutao Du and post doctorate student Yun-Hai Zhang, the latter of whom produced the first cloned pig in China. Also collaborating are professor Ingrid Brück Bøgh and associate professor Mette Schmidt from the Royal Veterinary and AgriculturalUniversity, both of whom carried out the embryo transfers and the caesarean, and postdoctoral researcher Peter M. Kragh from AarhusUniversity who works part time at DIAS as well.

For further information please contact professor and senior scientist Gabor Vajta, Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, Research Centre Foulum, telephone 45 8999 1262, e-mail: gabor.vajta@agrsci.org.


Friday 30 June 2006 | Communication Unit