Ever cloned a pig? Us neither, but a bunch of robots can apparently now lay claim to the accolade thanks to researchers from the University of Nankai in Tianjin, China, who created an AI-powered system to direct the service.
Why? Because by taking humans (we squishy, fallible humans) out of the equation, the team behind the autonomous pig-producing tech have reduced the margin for error. South China Morning Post reports that the switch to AI-powered robots has improved the success rate of cloning pigs, something that’s practiced for research and agricultural reasons.
The subsequent piglets are the world’s first to have been produced entirely by robots. In 2017, the same university created piglet clones from robots, but humans had to jump in for a delicate step involving removing the egg cell’s nucleus.
When cloning an animal, a viable egg cell’s nucleus needs to be removed so that a somatic cell nucleus can be put in its place. This type of body cell is capable of producing all the tissue types needed to create a copy of the animal it was extracted from, and the technique is called somatic cell nuclear transfer.
Humans can carry out the procedure with the aid of a microscope, and Pan Dengke who founded Clonorgan Biotechnology (a company in Chengdu with lots of experience tinkering with pigs) boasts being able to create 1,000 clones by hand in a day.
It might sound like a lot, but the process is a painstaking one for humans with backs that are prone to aching. On top of which, there is a lot of room for human error as the minute process is such a delicate one.
"Each step of the cloning process was automated, and no human operation was involved," Mashable SE Asia reports Liu Yaowei, who worked on the AI-directed, pig-cloning robots, said.
“Our AI-powered system can calculate the strain within a cell and direct the robot to use minimal force to complete the cloning process, which reduces the cell damage caused by human hands.”
While the technical details of the new-and-improved AI-powered method for cloning pigs have yet to be released, they’re reportedly going to be published in a journal soon.