Champion Horse Cloned

Italian researchers announced on April 14 that the first clone of a sterile horse is healthy and thriving. The Arabian colt, a genetic copy of U.S. endurance rider Valerie Kanavy's two-time World Champion horse Pieraz, proves that researchers can preserve a gelding's genetic material. Pieraz-Cryozootech-Stallion (Pieraz 2), will be used for breeding only.

The colt was born on Feb. 25 at the Laboratorio di Tecnologie della Riproduzione-Consorzio per l'Incremento Zootecnico (LTR-CIZ), a research facility on the outskirts of Cremona, Italy. He was foaled by a surrogate Haflinger mare. She is about the same weight as--but smaller in stature than--an Arabian, and she was chosen because of her temperament and milk production. The cloned foal weighed 42 kg (about 92 pounds) at birth. He is the second horse clone to be born in the world. The first one was born in 2003 under the supervision of Cesare Galli, DVM, of LTR-CIZ. (The first cloned equid was a mule born at the University of Idaho in 2003.)

In cloning, using microsurgery techniques, scientists remove the nucleus from an egg cell, which contains the cell's genetic material, creating an enucleated egg. A somatic cell (any body cell other than an egg or sperm cell) is placed adjacent to the enucleated egg, making sure the membranes of the two cells are in contact. An electric pulse fuses the egg cell and the somatic cell with the new genetic material. The cell is then treated in media that allows it to develop into an embryo, which can be implanted in a surrogate mare's womb and carried to term.

Cryozootech, a company founded by Dr. Eric Palmer in 2001, supplied the cells for cloning Pieraz with the help of Genopole (a genetics company in Evry, France). Palmer and Galli began working together in 2002 on the project that resulted in the gelding's clone.

Galli wrote in a LTR-CIZ announcement, "This new approach opens the possibility of preserving the genetic heritage of many exceptional horses whose genes are presently lost because of the castration." Pieraz was endurance's World Champion in 1994 (at Den Haag, Holland) and in 1996 (at Fort Riley, United States), and he is now retired at Kanavy's farm.

Kanavy, who has the right to breed mares to Pieraz 2, said, "Although he should look like 'Cash (Pieraz's barn name),' we don't know all the health issues. What Cash accomplished was partly because of his training. Were he (Cash) still a stallion, his sperm would have the same DNA (as the clone) and when combined with a mare, there would be a real good chance that you would get a capable foal. We won't know those answers for maybe 10 or 15 years."

While cloning is controversial, Palmer reasons that "cloning gelded champions will produce stallions on the geldings' behalf, allowing the best performance horses to be the fathers of the next generation. The clone of a gelded champion would allow 50% more genetic progress than using a full brother."

DNA specimens of 30 equids, most of which are champions in endurance, show jumping, dressage, and eventing, with a few endangered breeds of horses and donkeys, are stored in the genetic bank. Another champion endurance horse and a show jumper are being cultured for cloning.

--Genie Stewart-Spears and Stephanie L. Church

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