First Cloned Horse Born

The world's first cloned horse, created by Italian scientists from a single skin cell taken from a mare, has been born, according to a Washington Post article.

The birth of the healthy foal, announced in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature, brings to nine the number of mammalian species that scientists have cloned from adult cells, along with sheep, mice, rabbits, goats, cats, pigs, cattle, and mules.

Born at a research facility on the outskirts of Cremona, the foal is unlike any other clones. He is the first to have been gestated in the womb of the same female that donated the skin cell from which the clone was grown. So in giving birth to the clone, the mare was really giving birth to her identical twin sister.

"Basically, she foaled herself," lead researcher Cesare Galli of the Laboratory of Reproductive Technology told the Washington Post.

The birth confirmed that a mare’s immune system would not reject a fetus that was not genetically different from herself.
 
Cloning could even allow geldings to contribute skin cells to be made into genetically identical foals, in effect siring entire batches of their own twin brothers. And those foals would grow up to produce the same sperm the gelding would have.

Galli and his colleagues named the newborn clone Prometea, after the Greek god Prometheus. The Haflinger was born naturally at 1:45 a.m. on May 28, weighing 79 pounds.  Prometea is the first member of the equine family to be cloned from an adult cell. A second cloned horse--created by scientists at Texas A&M University--is due to be born in November.

The Italian team took a single skin cell from a 6-year-old mare and fused it with an egg cell whose own genetic material had been removed. That newly constituted cell grew in a lab dish into an embryo, which was transferred into the mare's uterus for a standard 11-month gestation.

As has been the case with cloning in other species, the process was inefficient. The team started by painstakingly creating 841 embryos, all but about two dozen of which died during their first week in laboratory dishes.

The researchers transferred 17 embryos to the wombs of surrogate mother horses, resulting in four pregnancies. Two of those pregnancies ended spontaneously within the first 30 days, and a third aborted after about six months, all for unknown reasons.

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