In 1996 a sheep named Dolly, the world’s first cloned mammal, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. Since then cloning technology has been adopted by some in the equine community. So far there are fewer than 100 cloned horses in the world. Many are genetic twins of historical champions and as such are of extremely high profile and interest.
Prometea, the world’s first cloned horse, was created in 2003. In 2005 Texas A&M University cloned a European jumping stallion and named the colt Paris Texas. They then followed up with 12 more clones, including five Smart Little Lena clones that were foaled before the end of 2006 season.
This was before ViaGen Inc. patented the cloning process. ViaGen is the commercial cloning and gene-banking company that controls the international patent for equine cloning.
A major turn of events came in 2007 with the end of equine slaughterhouses in the United States. Slaughterhouse mares are the primary source of ovaries used in cloning. Healthy ovar ies and the harvested oocytes/eggs are key to a successful outcome.
Cloning involves taking a small tissue biopsy from the donor horse’s neck or underneath the tail. These tissue cells are then grown in a culture to produce millions of viable cells genetically identical to the donor. Then through nuclear transfer, DNA from the donor’s cells are injected into an enucleated oocyte.
There are various methods scientists use to get the egg and donor cell to develop into an embryo. A viable embryo is then transferred into a recipient mare and after a normal gestation the cloned foal is delivered.
The shortage of available ovar ies in 2007 prompted ViaGen Inc. to build another equine-cloning laboratory in Lethbridge, Alberta. This enabled easy access to the horse-processing plant in Fort Macleod and an ample supply of equine ovaries.
In the United States mostly cutting horses and rodeo horses are being cloned. In 2006 ViaGen Inc. produced the world’s first commercially cloned horse, a clone of the all-time leading National Cutting Horse Association dam Royal Blue Boon. In 2009 Scamper, the legendary barrel horse’s clone, Clayton, begins his career as the world’s first cloned stallion to stand for commercial breeding. As the number of clones continues to rise, breed registries will be asked to address their policies. Clones can be included in the equine registry in Belgium. Despite popularity of the cutting horses and rodeo horses in the United States it is primarily the European sport horses that dominate the equestrian-cloning percentage.
The dollar value for a clone? $150,000 American. This is certainly not beyond bookkeeping rationale for the repeat appearance of a champion. While genetics play a primary role in determining whether a horse will be an outstanding performer, so do several other factors including environment, training, and nutrition.
Can the cloned performer clone the performance? Horse fanciers remain curious to see how it will all play out.