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. 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. When Dolly the sheep was born in 1996, she instantly achieved worldwide fame for being the first-ever animal to be cloned from an adult cell.
There hasn’t been one seen in the wild since 1969; in the second half of the 20th century the species’ population declined because of human and livestock taking over the land they inhabited and extra-harsh winters. Their heads resemble those of ponies or mules in that they’re bigger in proportion to the rest of the body.
This points toward cryopreserved genetic material being a viable way to create clones, even after 40 years in the freezer. They haven’t quite succeeded in cloning a woolly mammoth yet (and whether that’s a good or a terrible idea is up for debate), but it may just be a matter of time.
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. 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.
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.
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. This article may require cleanup to meet Wikipedia's quality standards.
You don't expect to hear that some of the most cutting-edge biotechnology is now part of the elite game of polo, “the ancient sport of kings.” But on a trip to Argentina last December, we went to a big polo match -- and discovered that several of the champion horses on the field were clones.
The two teams are La Dolphins in white and Albertina in black. Adolfo Cambial CBS News Each team has four players who ride as many as a dozen horses during matches.
At age 25, Adolfo decided to create his own polo team called La Dolphins, and a breeding business from scratch. Today he has nearly 1000 horses that are fed a special diet of plants and grasses grown on his massive farms.
A swimming pool for the horses, where they do laps and stretch out their sore muscles. His most prized horse for a long time was named Aiken Cuba.
Before they put him down, Adolfo made a fateful decision: he asked his veterinarian to save some of the horse's skin cells. He thought that one day he could bring Aiken Cuba back to life through cloning.
Adolfo Cambial: I was really sad and I say cloning should work -- I decided to keep some cells from him, just in case years later-- cloning-- is normal.
He remembered Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal. Since then, scientists have cloned cows, pigs, goats, and in 2003, the first horse.
Biologist Adrian Motto, one of the first scientists to clone in Argentina, showed us the process: he starts with an egg extracted minutes earlier from a mare. Next, he replaces it with the DNA of the horse they want to clone.
Dr. Adrian Motto: The next step is introduce again into the, into the egg the needle. Dr. Adrian Motto: Yeah This is our cell and this is the egg.
Lesley Stahl: You're just taking a cell from whichever. The incubated egg is implanted in a surrogate mare who gives birth to the clone –- like this one that's 3 weeks old.
Cloning represented a business opportunity to this man, Texas oil heir and polo enthusiast Alan Meeker. He had long dreamt of building a fleet of champion horses, and now had a way to do it.
Alan Meeker: I did some short math and I realized it would take 50 years and about $100 million to do what I wanted to do. In 2009, Meeker founded a horse-cloning business and, a year later, licensed the technology that was used to clone Dolly the sheep.
So I put together an idea of licensing the genetics from the very best-- breeders in polo. Alan Meeker: Breeders and owners of horses.
Lesley Stahl: When Alan first approached you about cloning? The birth of a clone of his beloved Aiken Cuba who grew into this magnificent, healthy horse, almost exactly like the original in strength, athletic ability and temperament.
Lesley Stahl: Did you know by just looking-- and of course it was a little foal at that point-- Adolfo Cambial: To make sure, I took some hair from him, and I bring him back to Argentina to do the DNA.
Adolfo Cambial: I think she's born to play, you know? There are those horses in life or like soccer players like Messi.
And look what he's done: in seven years, he and his partners have created more than a dozen clones of Charterer. Dr. Motto, who was hired as the lead scientist in Adolfo's cloning business, took us to see the Charterer clones he thinks of as his children.
In each case, he said the clones are strikingly similar to the originals in disposition, athletic ability and appearance. For example, the Charterer clones all have white markings, but with different shapes and in different places, some on the face; some on the ankle.
We talked to scientists at the National Institute of Health and were told there is no evidence that cloned animals suffer disproportionate health problems, though they have a slightly higher infant mortality rate. At first, many of Adolfo's cloned embryos died during gestation.
But they refined their technique and now tell us they have an 85 percent successful birth rate and have not experienced any health problems. Lesley Stahl: So as far as you are thinking, they're exactly the same in health, longevity.
At the final at the Argentine Open, Adolfo gambled that his Charterer clones would be as good as the original and, for the first time, he rode them almost exclusively. Regulators of thoroughbred horse racing worldwide have taken a firm stand against cloning.
In December, at the final match of the Argentine Open in Buenos Aires, one team rode clones while the other refused to. The competition was as much about the merits of cloning as it was a sporting contest.
Lesley Stahl: When you're on one of the clones playing, is there a special feeling? In this stage of my career-- the last couple of years for me to play and prove that the clone works and play with Charterers and everything is an extra motivation for myself, for sure.
Lesley Stahl: But when you have identical twins, they each get a name. Adolfo Cambial: But this is not twins, it's a clone.
They can now create 100 clones a year, and they're using them in Adolfo's already successful breeding business. They mate the clones with champion horses and sell their foals for up to $250,000.
Ernesto Gutierrez: We keep the key of the genetics and this was, I think, the good business to make that decision in the past. The idea of never selling the clones came from Ernesto Gutierrez, a shrewd Argentine businessman, who became a third partner in the cloning venture.
Fecund Pieces is number two in the world, right behind Adolfo. He showed us what he can do, like dribble a three-inch ball in the air while galloping down the field 20 miles an hour.
He's the captain of Albertina, an old-school team made up of three brothers and a cousin. His team is headquartered at another sprawling estate where they operate a multi-million dollar breeding business selling foals and embryos.
Adolfo Cambial: You have to have rivalry to be better player too. Before he left Albertina, Adolfo bought Charterer, as an embryo, from the Pieces family… the very horse he is now cloning to compete against them.
Adolfo Cambial: But she's born on my farm. Lesley Stahl: There are people who object to cloning on religious grounds… Or on moral grounds.
Adolfo Cambial: I don't see it, I don't see it wrong, to be honest. And I think the Cutters did improve my game, my sport.
Lesley Stahl: Is a wonderful polo player-- does he have-- an unfair advantage if he's on a clone of one of the best-- polo horses ever? So if Fecund Pieces finds a horse that is better than Charterer than he has an advantage over his competitor.
Lesley Stahl: Do you have any moral problems with cloning a human being? I know a good reason, lots of good reasons to clone-- body parts, like hearts and lungs and pancreases, if it could be done productively, that can save lives.
But I've been asked by some of the wealthiest people on planet earth to clone a human being and we-- Lesley Stahl: I'm thinking if science can do it, science will do it and maybe one day, you know, they'll be clones, and we'll laugh at all the people who were questioning the morality of it now.
Lesley Stahl: I assumed there'd be a big difference between a horse and a human. At the final match at the Argentine open, Adolfo's team and the clones were expected to win, but seven minutes in, Fecund's team was ahead, three goals to one.
Adolfo's team fought back; at halftime, the score was, the cloners, 7; the breeders, 6. It was so tense that at times it was as quiet as a tennis match.
The end of the game was thrilling: as expected, Adolfo's team was ahead, 13 to 10, but then Fecund's team in a final blast came back to tie the match. Adolfo Cambial: I never think I'm-- I going to lose.
In the first minute of the sudden death overtime, Fecund's team lost control of the ball. Adolfo's team recovered and Adolfo on his mighty Charterer 6 outran everyone and whacked the ball setting up the winning shot.
Watching, you had to wonder: was it the clones or the world's best player that made the difference? Produced by Sarah Koch, Nieves Zuberbühler and Terry Manning.