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Today's word on journalism

Monday, January 29, 2007

Words as weapons:

"When he had a pen in his hand it was like giving a kid a machine gun."

--Peter Hall, theater director, on "Angry Young Man" playwright John Osborne (1929-1994)

USU continues cloning and plans on doing so with endangered species soon

CLONIN' COWS: USU researchers are put on the map with their successful cloning, according to Kevin Gunnell, a master's student in range science. Above and below, the researchers go through the steps for this cloning.

By Cody Gochnour

December 15, 2006 | Three years after producing the world's first equine clone, Utah State University's cloning program is still going strong.

In the 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 discovered.

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 insemination.

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."

"It does keep you on the map," said Kevin Gunnell, who is working on a master's in range science at USU.

With regard to cloning brood stock, Gunnell said, "There is a monoculture issue with regards to genetic diversity." He explained there is not enough resilience in a population that relies on too many genetically similar animals.

"It's sticky, but there are advantages to having genetically similar test subjects," Gunnell said on using clones for research animals.

Logan resident, Erin Van Dyke, said, "On the one hand, I think it's obviously helpful, but on the other hand, I don't know if it's morally right."

On cloning endangered species, Van Dyke said, "If you have the ability, go for it. You never know what you might learn from something like that."

Whatever your take on cloning, it is here. It is happening, and it is almost certain to become an influence on our daily lives. As Van Dyke said, "It'll be interesting to see where it takes us in the future."



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