Dolly kicked the scientific barn doors down to open the way for all manner of cloned mammals. Idaho Gem came along just a couple of weeks before the birth of the first cloned horse, Promote, a Harbinger foal born May 28, 2003, at the Laboratory of Reproductive Technology, Ceremony, Italy.
“We take advantage of two things,” explains Dr. Katrin Heinrich, professor and Patsy Link Chair in mare reproductive studies at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. A cloned embryo that has developed to the stage at which it can be successfully transferred to the uterus of a recipient mare.
“Sometimes the placenta does not work as well as it should,” she adds, “and this can affect the health of the foal at birth, making it weak or having a large umbilical cord.” In addition, athletic ability is also a product of the animal’s environment, handling, management, and training.
Each horse has its own unique character, again shaped by its cumulative experiences, exposure, and handling. “We have found that each of our clients often has a unique reason for their cloning interest,” says Blake Russell, president of Via Gen in Cedar Park, Texas.
Via Gen is a division of Trans Ova Genetics and offers cloning services and state-of-the-art technology for all non-primate species. The most frequent reason for cloning is to preserve the unique genetics of an elite equine athlete whether in show jumping, polo, or barrel racing.
Breeding is the main reason people are cloning horses to save valuable genetics, so they can produce foals from those lines. She adds, however, that cloning is a technically difficult procedure that has a huge requirement in terms of equipment costs, the need for expert personnel, and access to a supply of oocytes.
Via Gen transfers most of our equine embryos in Texas to a veterinarian clinic that has worked with us for more than ten years.” Russell says that many of the research institutions were struggling with foal health immediately following birth.
However, success rates now are high with healthy cloned foals being born that require no special care. The company guarantees a 60-day-old, genetically verified, healthy and insurable foal for their clients.
Most events other than horse racing welcome foals produced with advanced breeding techniques. Cloning has a broader value in animal reproduction, especially in the preservation of genetic lines for wildlife protection.
“The main justification I see for cloning is to preserve genetics as in valuable geldings or in the case of rare or endangered species or breeds so that you can expand the gene pool,” says Heinrich. According to their website, some 15,000 sperm samples from 1,232 individual males representing 309 species are currently stored in the facility.
In addition, oocytes (eggs) of 381 females from 177 species are also cryopreserved for fertilization and embryo transfer. As an example, their researchers were able to achieve successful fertilization by injecting the endangered southern white rhinoceros oocytes with sperm frozen for over 20 years.
On September 15, 2008, the French genetic bank, Cryozootech, announced the birth of the colt Gemini, a clone of the Thoroughbred gelding, Gem Twist, regarded as one of the best show jumpers in history. In addition, frozen viable cell cultures from over 9,000 individual animals representing nearly 1,000 species are also in the collection.
He adds that cloning has a value when breeders are faced with the challenge of a subfertile mare or stallion in their breeding program. He says that the cloning route opens up easier future methods of reproduction such as artificial insemination (AI) or natural service.
“It can make much more economic sense to reproduce a proven stallion that has passed versus investing in the incredible expense and challenge to utilize a specialized technology such as CSI with every breeding,” he says. “This is guaranteed to produce a healthy, genetically verified foal and pass an insurance exam at 60 days of age.
Via Gen agrees to keep the foal and recipient mare for up to 60 days for inspection, but many of the clients choose to take them home sooner so that they can raise them in their own management system.” Via Gen has proven to have a positive track record with each cell line over the last ten years.
As cloned foals grow and make their own contribution to performance and production careers, they are seeing an increase in demand. For breeders thinking about cloning, the first step is a simple biopsy sample taken by their veterinarian.
Together with a group of experienced horsemen, they put together a list of great performing horses that had elite pedigrees but were unable to breed. His dam, Silk Skirt, was a proven outlier and his sire, Straw fly Special, was one of the greats.
Tailor Fit went on to win the Aqua world racing title twice and earned well over a million dollars and a speed index of 110. He represented the traits most desired in performance horses with tremendous conformation, a level of heart and determination that is rarely seen, and elite speed.
Russell said one look at his pedigree showed that those traits did not appear by chance, but were the result of a superior set of genes. “I approached the owner of Tailor Fit following his retirement, and she requested that I move forward with cloning him since I was carrying the passion for building a breeding program around him.
Pure Tailor Fit is the cloned stallion owned by Blake Russell, President of Via Gen, Texas. “Each day ‘Fit’ or one of his babies confirms our decision to bring this pedigree back into production.
The ability to take a high performer with an elite pedigree and no genetic defects and establish a breeding program is the reason for cloning technology to exist. That may sound like a lot of money, but consider that top polo ponies are sold for several hundred thousand dollars and race horses are worth millions.
A single sperm sample from a top horse can be sold for up to half a million dollars. Using this method, top polo mares are artificially inseminated and the resulting fertilized embryos are then transferred into surrogate broodmares.
Since horses are typically gelded to make them easier to work with before they’ve had the chance to prove themselves, those champion bloodlines used to be lost forever. Many other horse associations also forbid the registration of clones on the grounds that they don’t do anything to improve the breed.
The Federation Requester Internationale (FEI) is the international governing body for all Olympic equestrian disciplines. A dozen embryos have to be created and three or four broodmares must be impregnated to ensure the successful birth of even one clone.
For grand-prix competitor Mark ? Watring, of Hidden Valley, California, the opportunity for horse cloning was too intriguing to pass up. He had achieved international success?including an individual gold medal at the 2003 Pan American Games?with the Holstein er gelding Sapphire.
But he regretted that the champion show jumper, now 18, would never have the chance to produce offspring with the same athletic potential. After much investigation and research, he and his partners, John and Debt Shannon, decided to clone Sapphire in 2009.
Last February, Safer, a colt who is genetically identical, was born using horse cloning. An Emerging Technology Safer is one of approximately 75 cloned horses who have been produced since the first equine clone?a mule named Idaho Gem?was born in May 2003 in the United States.
Via Gen, the Austin, Texas, firm responsible for cloning Sapphire, is aiming to furnish answers through its work. The privately held company was founded in January 2002 to provide commercial bovine, equine and porcine gene banking, cloning and genomics services.
Today, it is responsible for approximately 55 of the cloned horses living in the world, according to Candace Dobson, Via Gen marketing associate. He was cloned by his lifelong trainer Frank Chapo, who now owns Gemini and plans to stand him as a stallion.
“The biggest part of our business is the geldings that people would like to have back as breeding stallions,” Candace says. He uses the biopsy punch that it contains to extract a tissue sample about the size of a person's pinky fingernail from the crest of the horse's neck.
The sample is then returned to Via Gen's lab, where a culture will yield millions of cells. “Even if you're not ready to clone, gene banking is a simple process,” Candace explains.
For a fee of $150 a year, the preserved genetic material can be stored for an extended period. When a client makes the decision to go forward with cloning, Via Gen takes an unfertilized egg (oocyte) from a donor mare and strips out the DNA.
“There have been research studies published noting difficulties such as birth defects and large umbilicus. Candace also responds to those who believe that cloning is not natural and compare it to playing God.
Still, “we don't have too many people ready to jump on the performance aspect of cloning because there is so much environment that goes into a horse's success.” In fact, Via Gen recommends that its clients manage their expectations with regard to performance.
An ? Uncertain Future Katrin Heinrich, DVD, PhD, is a professor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine and an equine cloning expert. In 2005, she led the team responsible for producing the first cloned horse in America, a colt named Paris Texas.
According to Dr. Heinrich, approximately 50 percent of the clones who have been produced by Texas A&M have been confronted with conditions early on that may have a lifelong effect. In her experience, “Many clones are born weak and have some problems at birth, such as contracted tendons or a large umbilicus that requires surgery,” she says.
“A foal that struggles for the first week or so of life may not turn out to be the individual he would have been,” had he been born healthy. Dr. Heinrich says that even a minor setback can make a significant difference in a foal's future.
She adds that the mare's placenta?the organ that maintains and nourishes the fetus as it develops?plays an important role in the foal's health and is one of the tissues most affected by cloning. Dr. Heinrich points to one additional factor she believes is perhaps the most consequential in terms of its potential to compromise a clone's athletic ability: The current technology utilizes a skin cell to create the clone.
As a result, the oocyte that has ?received the donor horse's DNA bears the responsibility for making a cascade of decisions to initiate and sustain embryonic development. “Essentially, the oocyte goes to the DNA and scratches its head and says, To make an embryo, I need this gene.
The oocyte goes through the entire set of DNA molecules?which carry some 50,000 genes?repeating the “need it, don't need it” process. If it does it pretty well, there likely is a pregnancy, but somewhere along the line, if there is a wrong gene that's available or shut off, this can cause the fetus to be lost.
In the case where a cloned foal ?ultimately is destined for breeding, what is the outlook for his or her offspring? “The epigenetic markings?those that govern how the DNA is used?reset when an animal, a clone or not, makes eggs or sperm.
But a consideration that has not been well addressed, Dr. Heinrich adds, is the fact that each oocyte contains mitochondria, the structures responsible for energy production that are found in every mammalian cell. But because the foal's mitochondria come from the egg, these tiny bits of DNA will pass to the next generation of a cloned mare.
Registration Issues Until more is known about horses who have been cloned, most equine breed groups are choosing not to register them. Among the first to address the issue was the American Quarter Horse Association, the world's largest equine breed registry and membership organization.
Since 2004 its official handbook has included this rule: “American Quarter Horses produced by any cloning process are not eligible for registration.” At the association's 2008 convention, a change was proposed to the Stud Book and Registration Committee (SBC).
Later that year, representatives from Via Gen and educational research institutions met with the committee to discuss cloning and its ramifications. The SBC recommended appointing a task force to seek information and input from knowledgeable sources regarding cloning and to conduct further study in four areas: parentage-verification issues, registration-process implications, general membership sentiment and implications with respect to genetic disease.
Material gathered by the task force was presented to the SBC at the 2010 Aqua convention last March. A member proposal to amend the rule regarding the registration of clones was discussed and then denied.
The Jockey Club, the breed registry for Thoroughbreds in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, is another organization that does not admit equine clones. Its rules for registration specify: “To be eligible for registration, a foal must be the result of a stallion's breeding with a broodmare (which is the physical mounting of a broodmare by a stallion with intro mission of the penis and ejaculation of semen into the reproductive tract).
As an aid to the breeding, a portion of the ejaculate produced by the stallion during such mating may immediately be placed in the uterus of the broodmare being bred. A natural gestation must take place in, and delivery must be from, the body of the same broodmare in which the foal was conceived.
Without limiting the above, any foal resulting from or produced by the processes of artificial insemination, embryo transfer or transplant, cloning or any other form of genetic manipulation not herein specified, shall not be eligible for registration.” However, many of its member affiliates, including The Foundation for the Pure Spanish Horse, the American Shetland Pony Club and the American Miniature Horse Registry, have developed their own position statements.
According to The Foundation for the Pure Spanish Horse, “Until the registry is satisfied that it has gained a comfortable level of knowledge and assurances that specific technical, moral and legal aspects of cloning, gene splicing or other artificial attempts to enhance or manipulate the equine genome are resolved, the registry will not allow registration of any horses produced by such a manner.” A Look Ahead In addition to serving as chairman of the Used's Breeders Committee, Ruth Wilburn, DVD, of Olive Branch, Mississippi, breeds pure and part-bred Welsh ponies.
She believes that associations based on performance or discipline will be more likely to adopt cloning than breed organizations. But with something so important that has the potential to affect a lot of breeds of horses ?it's better to tread lightly,” Dr. Wilburn says.
Second, cloning may prove useful in passing on the genetic material of an exceptional horse that is unable to breed. Champion geldings are an obvious choice, but fertile mares and stallions could also be chosen to start a line of cloned offspring.
One of the first foals produced for this reason is a clone of Pair, endurance rider Valerie Navy’s Arabian gelding. Born in the spring of 2005, this colt should grow up to produce semen that will pass on the physical traits of his champion father.
Third, the technique might be a way to safeguard populations of endangered equine species such as Przewalski’s horses and Somali wild asses. While cloning does not have the advantage of introducing new genetic material into a small surviving population, it could provide extra copies of individual animals which could be moved to new locations, thus eliminating the possibility that an entire herd could be destroyed by disease or natural disaster.
A few weeks afterward, a team of Italian scientists announced the birth of Promote, a Harbinger filly that is the first live horse clone. Earlier studies at the University of Idaho had suggested higher levels of calcium in the culture medium might stimulate cell division, a change that proved successful as several embryos began to develop.
Implanted into the uteri of surrogate mothers, the embryos developed into three foals that are genetically identical mule triplets. The Italian cloning team followed a slightly different process, using a skin cell from a mature mare to get genetic material for nuclear transfer into an oocyte.
The resulting embryo was implanted into the donor mare, a process that made Promote a genetically identical copy of her birth mother. The processes and techniques involved in producing a cloned animal are time-consuming, expensive, and subject to a number of problems.
As an illustration, the Italian team of scientists that announced Promote’s birth began with more than 800 nuclear-transferred oocytes, of which only 22 developed into embryos at seven days. The mule foals produced at the University of Idaho were monitored with standard physical exams every three weeks, and full blood chemistry tests were carried out quarterly.
The Jockey Club, controller of Thoroughbred registrations, will not register cloned horses or allow them to race, and the American Quarter Horse Association has adopted a similar rule. Because of its high cost and uncertain success rate, cloning is not expected to have a large impact on the sport horse market in the immediate future.
Their initial efforts resulted in the birth of a foal clone to Cambial's beloved Aiken Cuba. “The foal grew into this magnificent healthy horse, almost exactly like his genetic duplicate, having his strength, athleticism, agility and temperament,” Cambial told Stahl.
Cambial also decided to clone his biggest polo star, a mare called Charterer. “From those little points , we made all those horses,” Cambial said proudly.
“We were told that there's no evidence that cloned animals suffer disproportionate health problems, though they have a slightly higher infant mortality rate.” According to the 60 Minutes piece, Cambial's team now creates 100 clones per year, and they use them in their breeding business.
Even so, thoroughbreds and quarter horses are regularly cloned and participate in disciplines such as dressage, polo and rodeo. Via Gen produces cloned foals for clients around the world, shipping horses annually to Europe and other regions.
The company markets its genetic preservation and cloning services as a tool in the equine practitioner's toolbox of reproductive capabilities. The biopsy is then placed in the Via Gen kit and shipped to the company's cell culture lab in Cedar Park.
Once a client decides to move forward with cloning, Via Gen thaws the cell line and places the DNA into an nucleated oocyte. Once the oocyte has received its new genetic material, Via Gen conducts its proprietary process to activate fusion and begin embryo development.
In horses, Via Gen is able to culture the embryo in an incubator for six days, which allows them to assess its development. From that point forward, the process is essentially the same as a conventional equine embryo transfer at the seven-day stage.
The thought was that outstanding mares have a limited ability to contribute to the population, since they can have a foal only once a year or so. Genomics is rocking the food production world-and so is cloning, says Via Gen President Blake Russell.
“Via Gen is often called on to provide cloning services for those breeding animals who are free from the known genetic defects in order to clean up a population,” Russell says. “We give these mares an opportunity to provide a larger genetic dose to the breeding population.
Colts with an unruly temperament are often gelded early in life, and some go on to have a terrific performance career. When mares and geldings expanded the size of the potential cloning market, the horse industry found itself with a new technology.
“Via Gen has clients that are interested in both the reproductive and performance potential in their elite animals,” Russell says. “I think it's really important that people realize that cloning is just another advanced breeding technology,” says Gregg Veneklasen, DVD, of Timber Creek Veterinary Hospital, a ViaGen-affiliated veterinarian and expert on cloning and embryo transfer.
The clones are made from vitrified cells, thawed, and the embryos are put in the surrogate mare's uterus, which is my portion of the procedure.” He is an author and editor on nutrition, physiology and veterinary medicine with a background in horses, pets and livestock.
Imagine, years down the road and tens of thousands of dollars later, learning that your investment will be competing against not only the fleet of imports purchased at a premium in Europe but, potentially, multiple clones of those top-dollar imports, which have already proved they can win at the highest levels. There’s enough evidence to indicate that cloning doesn’t pose the radical threat to fair play that many once feared.
“You can’t expect that just because a clone has the genetics of a famous horse, it’s going to walk into the show ring as a six-year-old and win everything,” McNulty says. From the beginning, cloning has been used as a tool to preserve bloodlines from champion horses in case they died unexpectedly, or from those gelded early in their careers, before their value could be known.
This lack of transparency is one of the stickier points in modern cloning and something that’s likely to get caught in the crosshairs of sport-horse breeders, many of whom can trace their horses lineages back centuries. However, tools like DNA analysis and regulated microchipping mean that identifying who’s a clone and who’s not is possible, even if the results aren’t publicized.
If we lower the veil of suspicion around clones, we will encourage greater transparency in competition and, with that, move closer to our primary aim: to regulate and maintain fair play. The horse industry had had to face the cloning issue: Early August 2013, US District Court Judge Mary Lou Robinson rocked the boat after horse owner Jason Abraham and two of his companies, Abraham & Veneklasen Joint Venture and Abraham Equine Inc., filed a lawsuit against the American Quarter Horse Association in Amarillo, Texas because they didn’t accept cloned horses applications.
The judge later ruled that the Aqua must include clones into their breed registry. Even though this case has no immediate bearings on thoroughbred racing, these decisions will set important legal precedents.
Now, the Jockey Club makes it pretty clear that they are against competition clones. They were allowed in the 2012 Olympics, the parimutuel mule races held at Northern California fair racetracks, and thoroughbreds have competed in the show jumping field.
In an ESPN special, Bill Finely paints the picture of the 2033 Kentucky Derby being like something straight out of a science fiction novel. Kathleen McNulty, replica farm owner, does not believe that is the case, “We don’t see this as something where someone is going to create 20 copies of a famous horse and pit them against one another.
While digging deeper, that seems to be a tentatively common argument amongst people for cloning. Clones commonly are subjected to birth defects, disease, and premature death .
Not only is it expensive and dangerous, consider how it could affect society’s moral standards and integrity. Allowing scientific advantages to lead the way with all of its advances with the technology to “fix” every flaw, and make everything perfect, modern science is contradicting the natural science of the evolution of a species.
16 years old, currently a junior at Pass Robles High School. I'm active in FFA through showing livestock, public speaking, and leadership.
The first successfully cloned endangered Przewalski’s horse was born on Aug. 6 in a veterinary facility in Texas, San Diego Zoo Global announced on Friday. “The work to save endangered species requires collaborative and dedicated partners with aligned goals,” Paul A. Barnaul, president of San Diego Zoo Global, said in a statement.
“We share in this remarkable achievement because we applied our multidisciplinary approach, working with the best scientific minds and utilizing precious genetic material collected and stored in our wildlife DNA bio bank.” “This birth expands the opportunity for genetic rescue of endangered wild species,” said Ryan Plan, executive director of Revive & Restore, in a statement.
“Advanced reproductive technologies, including cloning, can save species by allowing us to restore genetic diversity that would have otherwise been lost to time.” As little as 15 years ago the idea of cloning horses was met with skepticism and disbelief by the equestrian industry, but this controversial science has come a long way since the arrival of Dolly the sheep on 5 July 1996.
On 24 February 2005, the same team of scientists were responsible for the birth of Pieraz-Cryozootech-Stallion, a clone of the international endurance champion gelding, Pair. Typically, cloning is undertaken in order to continue the bloodlines of successful geldings, whose semen was not stored prior to castration taking place.
The resulting embryo is then implanted into the uterus of a host, and a normal gestation period takes place before the birth of an animal which is genetically identical to the donor. When Mary Walker, 60, was at her lowest, a horse named Latte was her saving grace.
Latte was there as she grieved the loss of her only child, and together they dominated the barrel racing circuit. From spending quiet time in the barn to training at high speeds, the duo shared a powerful bond.
Mary's son was 21 years old when he died in a tragic car accident. No one could replace her son, but on Mother's Day 2011, Mary's husband gave her a special gift.
A born barrel racer, Mary didn't waste any time entering her best friend into the competitive circuit. Latte was a natural winner, but an accident almost ended their career.
Latte fell in June 2011, and Mary suffered extensive injuries. Mary worked hard and became the 2012 World Barrel Racing Champion.
She took home $146,000 in prize money and, at that time, she was the oldest woman to win the world title. With all her success, the decision to clone Latte was based on sentiment, not competition.
Latte was her best friend, and Mary decided to clone her horse in 2015. Mary named him Ditto and reports he's an exact match to her beloved Latte.
Latte, Ditto, and Junior all live together in Mary's barn. Mary's dream is to have a stable full of at least 10 cloned horses, and she's on her way to making that happen.