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5-Animals: Cloning of quarter horse under way

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-------------------------------- GENET-news --------------------------------

TITLE:  Cloning of quarter horse under way
SOURCE: Cox News Service, USA, by Dick Stanley
DATE:   Jun 24, 2003

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Cloning of quarter horse under way

AUSTIN, Texas - Hard on the hooves of Idaho's cloned mule, Texas
scientists hope to have the first clone of a quarter horse by November.

"It's going to be a tough couple of months until then," said Katrin
Hinrichs, a Texas A&M University professor who leads a group of
researchers nervously watching a pregnant mare carrying their engineered
clone of a show horse named Skip Firestorm, which belongs to Hinrichs' 9-
year-old daughter.

Actually, the College Station group expected to have lost the horse race
by now, to a lab in Italy whose pregnant mare was scheduled to foal last
week. But either something went wrong with the birth, or the Italian
scientists don't want publicity yet.

"Even in a normal foaling, you don't have much time for the foal to come
out," said Hinrichs (pronounced Hein-ricks). "If there's a problem, it's
common for the foal to die, although only about 2 percent of normal
births have a problem."

Whether the foaling of a horse cloned from the cells of an adult - like
the 20-year-old Skip Firestorm - would be more problematic than a horse
bred naturally isn't known, Hinrichs said, but it's a good sign that the
mule cloned last month by University of Idaho scientists was born
healthy. A mule is the offspring, almost always sterile, of a horse and a

The Aggies - the only university scientists in Texas doing animal
cloning; they have ruled out any human cloning - certainly hope to win
the horse race. Having cloned the first house cat last year, they have a
reputation to uphold. Never mind that they failed to clone a dog, despite
four years of effort and $3.7 million from Arizona entrepreneur John
Sperling who wanted them to replicate Missy, his spayed Border collie mix
that died last summer.

Sperling ended his Texas A&M relationship in January, hired his own
scientists and opened a private lab in North Austin where the dog cloning
effort continues, along with work to refine the cloning of cats. When
these two favorite pet animals can be cloned efficiently, without any
health problems, Sperling plans to clone the beloved cats and dogs of
others, for a fee.

His company - the humorously named Genetic Savings and Clone - already is
banking cells from cats and dogs for $895 to $1,395 each in preparation.

It was natural enough that Sperling went first to Texas A&M, the state's
premier agricultural school known for its research in veterinary
medicine. No, the Aggies didn't produce Dolly, the famous Scottish sheep
that in 1996 became the first animal cloned from the cells of an adult.
But Aggie cloning expert Mark Westhusin, who led the Missy effort, did
help clone the embryos of Brangus bulls in 1988 for Granada Corp. of
Houston. The biotech firm went broke cloning superior breeds of cattle
because they cost more than farmers and ranchers were willing to pay.

But a dog presents special problems, said Duane Kraemer, a veterinary
medicine professor at Texas A&M and Westhusin's associate in trying to
clone Missy.

"It's considerably different in its reproductive pattern than other
animals," he said. "The eggs are not mature when they are ovulated (and)
we found we couldn't mature them in the lab, like we did for cats and
cattle. We had gotten pregnancies. It was just a matter of doing enough
of them until we got one to term. But (Sperling) decided it was better to
put the money in the company."

Kraemer and Westhusin have had more success cloning pigs, goats and
cattle, although they present their own problems. Some cloned calfs, for
instance, have been born with breathing or circulatory system problems.
For one thing, their placentas don't seem to form as well as they should.

Lately, the researchers have begun cloning bighorn sheep and white-tailed
deer. Some people would like to repopulate Texas with bighorns, which
have all but disappeared here, but why would anyone want more white-
tailed deer? They already are so plentiful they plague neighborhoods in
Austin, Lakeway and other Texas cities.

People say the same about cats, Kraemer said, but cloning them is all in
the interest of learning more about the animals and their diseases.

"You need more than one animal that has a certain problem," he said. "You
can learn the same information over many years with non-cloned animals.
But with cloning you can produce larger numbers of identicals that yield
more information in one experiment than do randomly bred animals."

Likewise with horses, Hinrichs said.

"Our interest in cloning is more about horse fertilization," she said.
"It's to learn more about the egg and the embryo of the horse, and what
we might do to increase pregnancy rates and decrease embryo loss rates,
which are pretty high in the horse."

But cloning such a large animal as a horse is cumbersome and expensive
work, which is why hers is one of just five labs in the world researching it.

You might see potential riches in cloning a race horse like Funny Cide,
winner of two of this year's Triple Crown races, but the groups that
register race horses won't certify any animals bred by any artificial
means, much less by cloning.

Still, Hinrichs' lab has attracted at least one $150,000 offer to clone
someone's beloved horse that is dying of old age.

"We're considering it," she said. "We're interested in that to keep the
work going."


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