By Cody Gochnour
December 15, 2006 | Three years
after producing the world's first equine clone,
Utah State University's cloning program is still
summer of 2003, Project Idaho, a joint venture
between USU and the University of Idaho, produced
three mule foals, all cloned from a single animal.
The project was significant
in more ways than one. Not only was it the first
successful clone of a member of the horse family,
it was also the first clone of a hybrid animal.
Mules are the result of a cross between a female
horse and a male donkey and are generally sterile.
Equine cloning is of interest
because horses don't get prostate cancer, according
to Dr. Ken White, director of USU's Center for
Development and Molecular Biology.
Since Project Idaho, a commercial
company Viagen has taken the reigns of equine
cloning. The latest, according to a Nov. 15 press
release, is Clayton, a clone of Scamper, the legendary
barrel horse who made owner, Charmayne James,
"the million dollar cowgirl, and the holder of
more world championships than any other woman
in professional sports."
Viagen also produced the first
commercially cloned mare in February, according
to another of their press releases. The foal is
a clone of another legend, Royal Blue Boon, and
was aptly named Royal Blue Boon Too.
According to the releases,
both animals were cloned to continue the originals'
bloodlines as they become too old to breed.
Another benefit, according
to White, is the ability to pass on the genes
of excellent animals rendered sterile. In domestic
herds, many males are castrated in their infancy
in order to make them easier to handle.
According to White, it is often
much later when the animal's true potential is
In the past, this would have
been an unfortunate and irreversible circumstance,
but with cloning, a copy can be made for use in
a breeding program.
Another potential benefit of
cloning is to aide efforts in the conservation
of endangered species. According to White, USU
will begin a project to clone endangered species
of wild sheep within a year.
This will not be the first
time such an attempt has been made. In 2001,according
to National Geographic news, a healthy European
mouflon was cloned by the University of Teramo,
Italy. Earlier that same year a gaur, an Asian
ox, was successfully cloned and carried to term
by it's host mother, but died of dysentery within
48 hours of birth.
One drawback of cloning is
a low success rate. According to White, 10-20
percent of cloned implants result in a successful
pregnancy, compared to about 50 percent in a normal
embryo transfer and 70 percent from artificial
Animal cloning puts Utah State
in a very exclusive club of "probably only six
universities in the U.S. and about the same number
in Europe," a according to White.
"It has provided a tremendous
amount of recognition for our research, and we
are recognized as one of the leading laboratories
in this area of research."
does keep you on the map," said Kevin Gunnell,
who is working on a master's in range science