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Equine Cloning: The Goal is Breeding, Not Performance

Posted January 12, 2011 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

The first equine clones, mules, were produced in 2003. Today, superior performance horses that are unable to pass-on their genes through breeding are being cloned; their offspring are beginning to grow up and reach maturity. It's no longer a question of whether cloning is possible, but a question of its effectiveness and acceptability in the various registries and associations of the equine world.

Cloning Today

Early cloning was more of a trial-and-error science experiment with unpromising success rates. Starting in 1997, ordinary animals, like Dolly the sheep, were used. In 2008, dogs could be cloned for $100,000 each and up.

To clone a horse today, a tissue sample is taken from the crest of the neck, and the cells are injected into an egg that has been emptied of genetic material. This egg is later implanted into a surrogate mare. An article in the January 2011 issue of Practical Horseman magazine explains the process as completed by the company ViaGen. The cost of the procedure is $150,000 per horse, and genetic material and storage fees are $1,500 annually.

According to a study of 14 clones produced using a similar method at the Auburn University College of Veterinary Medicine, about 43% of the foals were normal. One died and the other survivors suffered abnormalities that required medical and surgical treatment. This could explain why ViaGen requires the clones it raises to stay on-premises for a period of a few months.

Famous Equine Clones

Gem Twist – The champion show jumper and Olympic medalist was unable to pass-on his genes because he was a gelding (castrated male). Gem Twist (shown in the photo to the right) was born brown and his coat changed to gray, and then white later in life. His clone, Gemini (shown in the photo above), was born brown and will be used for breeding.

Scamper – The barrel racer won 10 world championships before retiring. According to the owner of both horses, the clone Clayton shares traits such as looks, sounds, and a sensitive spot behind the ears with Scamper. Clayton will also be solely used for breeding.

Clones Not Considered

Many breed registries and performance associations still do not recognize clones. Included are the Jockey Club (thoroughbred registry) and American Quarter Horse Association. Others have yet to decide on a firm ruling.

Resources:

http://www.physorg.com/news152115527.html

http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=16743 [requires registration]

http://www.equisearch.com/equiwire_news/nancy_jaffer/jersey_fresh_tired_horses_051809/index1.aspx [image]

http://www.chadofarms.com/Memorials.htm [image]

More about cloning in the Animal Science blog:

Your Pet – Forever – For $100,000

Baby Showers – AI, ET, Surrogates, and Cloning (Part 2)

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#1

Re: Equine Cloning:

01/12/2011 5:46 AM

The Goal is Breeding, Not Performance.
Eh? George Orwell would be proud of souch doublethink.
Del

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: Equine Cloning:

01/12/2011 7:02 AM

I'm sorry that my title was confusing, Del.

The owners of many of the champion horses are cloning them to create breeding animals. They want to pass along the genes of their champions. (One might think they would want to create another Olympic medalist or world champion right away, but this isn't the immediate goal.)

I suppose the goal of the third generation (the clones' offspring) will be performance. But the clones are not going to be performing in the same equestrian disciplines as their forefathers.

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#3
In reply to #2

Re: Equine Cloning:

01/12/2011 7:16 AM

Nah, it's prob me just being grumpy... I'm at work (with not much to do) and I want to be home finishing my latest bow, I get overexcited like a big kid when I'm on that home stretch.
I know what you meant, it just seemed a rather subtle distinction... I mean the purpose is to try to ensure certain characteristics, now wether those charactersitics are called 'performance' or something else is largely down to semantics...damn my head is getting lodged up my backside now.
Still, as dear Oscar said, there's on thing worse than being talked about... and that's not being talked about.
Del

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#4
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Re: Equine Cloning:

01/12/2011 7:23 AM

I see - just keeping me on my toes! It's pretty early in the day here so that's a challenge.

We got quite a bit of snow and our street is a mess - so I'm working from home. There are about seven or eight inches so far and it's still coming down a little bit. On days like this I'd much rather take naps or read a nice book!

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#5

Re: Equine Cloning: The Goal is Breeding, Not Performance

01/12/2011 9:02 AM

All these horses their blood line has to be known to register them. The horses used to barrel racing are Quarter Horses usually. If the American Quarter Horse Association does not recognize a clone. How does that help in breeding purposes. None of the future offspring can be registered. And why keep a blood line alive unless it is a spectacular performer in it's field?

There is big money in the horse racing industry. Is this just a first step in letting science produce better performance?

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#6
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Re: Equine Cloning: The Goal is Breeding, Not Performance

01/12/2011 10:22 AM

Based on what I read, it appears that most of the breed registries are waiting to see what impact cloning will have before they make any further decisions. Animals do not have to be registered to compete in unrecognized competitions - perhaps the breeders plan on letting the clones' offpsring start there and see what happens? I can't say for sure.

As far as the reasoning behind keeping a bloodline alive - I think it's because these owners are banking on the fact that the registries may relent someday. There are probably those out there, regardless of registration status, that would pay large sums to own a piece of history like Gem Twist. If someday that translates into a gold medal at the Olympics - all the better. (I'm not sure if other countries have rules about horses needing to be registered animals to compete. In fact, I'm sure there are animals of unknown origin competing in show jumping today. I haven't done much research on where United States Equestrian Federation stands on clones.)

I highly doubt the horse racing industry (at least the thoroughbred branch) will ever accept clones into its registry - certainly not in the immediate future. Right now the only acceptable means of breeding a foal in that industry is a stallion covering a mare the old-fashioned way. Foals bred via artificial insemination and other means are not allowed to be registered and so cannot race.

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#8
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Re: Equine Cloning: The Goal is Breeding, Not Performance

01/12/2011 12:05 PM

Is this a start down a path better not taken. In hopes that the registries relent on their acceptance of clones. Are they not setting the base work for other science modifications. Like DNA enhancement for performance. Are they not trying to change the public view in the use of these modification.

If we except this in our animals whats the future for us? Will we sooner or later relent in allowing the DNA or cloning of man for the same reasons?

We in our breeding of kept animals are already playing with natural selection. Which all animals depend on for survival and is the bases for their evolutional change. What if we screw up? What if we are not here? Who will take care of them?

Just some thoughts.

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#10
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Re: Equine Cloning: The Goal is Breeding, Not Performance

01/13/2011 7:27 AM

These are all valid things to consider. There will always be people willing to push cloning and other pieces of science to the limits and the consequences could outweigh the benefits at some point.

The Guest who posted (see below) makes a valid point about using cloning as a diversification tool. Many breeds were purposely inbred over the years and some are seeing the negative effects of those actions. (This lines up with your point about playing with natural selection - we've caused some conformational deformities and diseases that shouldn't be so prevalent.) Cloning could integrate some otherwise "scarce" genes back into the pool, should we be allowed to use them.

Yet another point to consider is the overbreeding of animals. The number of thoroughbreds (although unaffected by cloning so far) is beginning to decrease; however, "backyard" breeding produces a large number of unwanted horses just as it does unwanted dogs and cats. Adding clones to the mix, although expensive, is just another avenue for more animals.

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#7

Re: Equine Cloning: The Goal is Breeding, Not Performance

01/12/2011 10:48 AM

I own a cloned stallion who is genetically identical to an elite Quarter Racing Champion gelding. I chose to produce the cloned stallion as a viable method to disseminate these proven genes to future generations through my breeding program. The champion gelding obviously didnt have a produce record but his pedigree supports his elite performance on the track and his phenotpye is highly consistent with the phenotype of a champion. Therefore, it is logical to expect that this stallion will produce high quality offspring.

He cannot currently be registered with the AQHA so we are training him as a future barrel racing horse to demonstrate the application of his speed and athleticism in this discipline. If successful, this will represent use of the technology to disseminate elite genetics at a reasonable price point to improve the quality of horses in a discipline that does not require registry. This horse's genetics are highly coveted in the AQHA and lower performing relatives still bring top dollar on the back of his performance. However, his status as a "cloned" stallion prohibits him from making a positive impact on the AQHA's highly inbred racing population.

This use of cloning for breeding to advance a population is already well established in the beef, dairy, and pork segments of livestock. Quite often, we are behind in our genetic applications in the equine industry where romance and science and economics weigh on our decision making in differing proportions.

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#9
In reply to #7

Re: Equine Cloning: The Goal is Breeding, Not Performance

01/13/2011 7:21 AM

Thanks for posting your experience, Guest. What year was your clone produced? When will his first foals hit the ground? Anything you could share about the process would be great since it's first-hand experience.

You make good points about diversifying inbred populations. They cause a lot of the problems with our breeds today.

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