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China science

The kids are alright: world’s first cloned cashmere goat fathers 16 young and more are on the way

Animal was genetically engineered to produce finer wool and firm involved in the project says it could help improve quality of the fibre sold commercially

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 1:05pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 April, 2018, 2:10pm

The world’s first cloned cashmere goat has fathered 16 kids in northern China over the past week, with several more on the way, according to a firm involved in the research. 

The successful breeding of the cloned billy goat with naturally born females could vastly improve the quality of cashmere in the wool industry, with huge implications for producers, according to the breeding firm Zhongke Zhengbiao Biotech Company. 

The billy goat was genetically engineered to produce finer and softer wool.

All of the kids were born at a breeding base in Bayannur in Inner Mongolia, with the first delivered on March 28. They were all in a healthy and stable condition, the company said. 

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The billy goat mated naturally with 30 females, and up to 14 more kids were expected to be born over the next few weeks, Zhongke Biotech’s chairman Li Zhen said. 

“This proves the cloned goat has full breeding capabilities and that we can accelerate the cultivation of a superior cashmere goat breed by combining natural reproduction and clone technologies,” Li told the South China Morning Post on Tuesday.

A higher quantity could be produced of cashmere wool – a fibre known for its softness which is often used on more expensive garments – if the successful breeding could be replicated and more widely adopted, Li said. 

Inner Mongolia produces about half of the world’s annual cashmere output of 20,000 tonnes, according to the firm. 

“The improved quality at the source of the cashmere industry will have a profound impact on the entire cashmere clothes industry,” Li said. 

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The best cashmere wool fibres are taken from the neck of cashmere goats, but their average thickness has increased over the past decade in Inner Mongolia because of the introduction of poor breeds, according to Li. 

The cloned goat, however, produces wool with a thickness of less than 14 micrometres, finer than existing breeds which produce wool of about 16 micrometres. 

The cloned animal was born in December 2016 with its DNA carefully selected from “tens of thousands of goats” with genomic sequencing techniques. 

Its offspring will sport slightly thicker coats because of their mothers’ genes, but the cashmere fibres they produce should still be about 14 micrometres, Li said. 

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More than 10 scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and researchers from local government agencies worked together on the cloning and breeding project. 

Zhongke Biotech, jointly set up by Li and the national academy, received funding from the local government.

“In our next step, we need the government, research institutions and enterprises to cooperate to create a large pasture for the breed,” Li said. 

He hopes his company can form a close bond with local herdsmen, who can help rear the breed while the company provides the necessary technology. 

China has cloned sheep, cattle and pigs over the past two decades. Scientists announced in January they had produced the world’s first pair of cloned monkeys in a laboratory in Shanghai using the same technique that created Dolly the cloned sheep.