Blanketing opinions that I'll probably regret soon.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Your Food is from China

My dad just returned from a business trip in Beijing. While there, he toured a lot of their food production facilities, and it almost seems futuristic.

From my dad's email in China:

I visited a large industrial park where there were various kinds of companies operating and selling products. One company produced hydroponic lettuce.  Apparently they sell this lettuce to McDonald's, but I had no way of verifying this. The individual greenhouses were twice the length and width as a football field. The growing situation was a pond with blocks of styrofoam floating on the water.  Each block had a multiple lettuce plants dangling their roots through holes into the water. Above were light fixtures that could illuminate the plants.

I also saw other research-type activities. One place was a hi-tech R&D company that was working on cattle. They, like various organizations around the world, had done some transgenic and cloning work, and I was shown a few cattle that were claimed to be of both varieties. Here in the USA our R&D people usually work for a couple decades on some small animal, and then try to transfer the technology to a large animal, but not the Chinese. They go straight for the jugular and work directly on the cow. 

Biotech companies have long been interested in producing rare and important human proteins with pharmaceutical benefits in cow's milk. For example, why not produce human interferon in cow's milk rather than produce it via DNA approaches in yeast? The answer is that the yeast has a difficult time producing the modifications of human proteins exactly as those substances would be synthesized in people, but the cow can make them correctly. 

I was shown various animals and told that some were transgenic varieties and others were clones. I wouldn't be surprised to visit most any university in the US and find people working on similar stuff in mice. Given that most of Europe and the USA labs are ahead of the Chinese, I wouldn't invest lots of money in the Chinese operation or expect anything commercial to issue forth any time soon, but of course we've underestimated the will and determination of the Chinese before.
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