Scotland's PPL has started a mass slaughter of its transgenic sheep engineered to produce alpha-1 antitrypsin, a drug intended for emphysema, in their milk.
The decision to dramatically reduce the number of sheep in the 6,500-strong flock comes in the wake of PPL's partner Bayer deciding to suspend the collaboration and focus on other development projects.
PPL is best known for its historic cloning of Dolly the sheep, the first animal to be cloned from an adult mammalian cell but which died prematurely earlier this year. The Bayer partnership focusing on recombinant AAT was its most advanced project, and the demise of the project last month led to a dramatic effort to cut costs at the Scottish firm, with 140 staff at its Roslin facility told that they were likely to lose their jobs.
The cull on PPL's farms on East Lothian and New Zealand started yesterday, although PPL has said it will retain a "significant" number of animals in case the project should ever restart.
Bayer said last month that it may be able to revisit the project in three years' time. However, the cost of maintaining the flock is high, as the animals require close monitoring to ensure their health, and analysts have suggested that the latest move could signal the end of PPL's transgenic production technology.
PPL is considering a liquidation of the company's assets, selling the firm or continuing to operate in a reduced state with a focus on developing another protein, fibrin I, as a tissue sealant to stop bleeding during surgery.