Six little piggies who really are just like dad

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 September, 2011, 12:00am


When he emerged after surviving 36 days under the rubble of the Sichuan earthquake, Zhu Jianqiang, the Strong-Willed Pig, was hailed as one of a kind.

But now there are seven of him, following a successful cloning effort by researchers at a genetic institute in Shenzhen using simple lab equipment and a novel technology.

The Beijing Genomics Institute's Shenzhen headquarters announced last week the delivery over the last few weeks of six piglets with DNA identical to that of Zhu Jianqiang.

Project leader Dr Du Yutao said yesterday that there were several challenges to cloning the pig that became a national symbol of endurance following the earthquake in May 2008.

Zhu was castrated before the earthquake and experienced serious trauma under the debris, qualities that should have disqualified the pig as a candidate for cloning. Worst of all, he was five years old - the human equivalent of 60.

'But the wonderful pig surprised us again,' Du said.

The piglets not only look like their 'father', with a birthmark between their eyes, but also demonstrated markedly more superior strength and vigour than other young porkers, she said.

The piglets will probably be paired off and end up in three different places - the institute, the Jianchuan Museum and the New Hope Group animal feed company, two of the project's sponsors from Sichuan.

Du said the pair to be kept at the institute would be closely monitored and possibly the subject of more experiments to help scientists understand, from a genetic point of view, what made Zhu Jianqiang so tough.

Besides their intrinsic scientific value, the piglets also demonstrated the feasibility of 'handmade cloning', a technology developed in Denmark to make the process cheaper and easier, the researcher said.

Dr Fang Shimin , a Beijing-based biologist and science critic, said yesterday that it was unlikely that Zhu Jianqiang had any special genes. Rather, he was just a celebrity being used to advertise the technology.