snuppy cloned dog
Snuppy, the world's first cloned dog, was born in 2005Reuters

China is building the world's biggest animal cloning factory where it will recreate sniffer dogs, pets, racehorses and beef cattle, it has been announced. The Xinhua news agency said Chinese scientists had signed a deal to create a commercial animal cloning centre in Tianjin, northeastern China.

The factory will be built in the Tianjin Economic and Technological Development Area (TEDA), a business development park sponsored by the government. Construction of the main building has already begun and scientists will start working there in the first half of 2016.

The joint project is being built by research institute Sinica, which is involved in stem cell and regenerative medicine, Peking University, the Tianjin International Joint Academy of Biomedicine, and South Korea's Sooam Biotech Research Foundation. The latter has been heavily involved in attempts to bring back the woolly mammoth via cloning techniques.

Around 200m yuan (£20.5m) has been invested in the centre, which will also include a gene storage area and a museum. Xu Xiaochun, chairman of Boyalife, which owns Sinica, said the centre would be able to produce 100,000 cattle embryos every year to start with, before upping the output to a million. He said farmers were currently struggling to produce enough beef to meet demand.

Researchers in China have cloned sheep, cattle and pigs since 2000 but more recently have been looking to clone animals for non-scientific research. China's first commercial animal cloning centre was established in 2014 in the eastern Shandong Province. Its first project saw scientists cloned three pure-blooded Tibetan mastiff puppies – a breed once much sought after by Chinese consumers.

Xinhua said that an increasing number of companies were looking to cloning technology for commercial purposes, with animal husbandry an area of particular interest.

The use of cloned sniffer dogs has already been established, with South Korea's customs service deploying the world's first cloned dogs in 2009. The dogs, used to check for drugs at the main airport and border crossings, were cloned from a "superb" Canadian sniffer dog by scientists at Seoul National University.