Cloned Mules Race Into History

Cloned mules Idaho Gem and Idaho Star made their racing debuts on June 3 and 4 in Winnemucca, Nev., each winning a qualifying heat before placing third and sixth, respectively, in the final 350-yard dash. This was the first time clones competed in athletic events. According to Dirk Vanderwall, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACT, and Gordon Woods, DVM, MS, PhD, Dipl. ACT, professors of animal and veterinary science at the University of Idaho, the mules are exceeding their expectations.

Idaho Gem and Idaho Star, foaled in 2003, are clones of Taz, a champion racing mule owned by Don Jacklin, president of the American Mule Racing Association. Jacklin partially funded the project to perpetuate the genetics of outstanding racing mules, which before now has been impossible since mules are sterile.

Three clones were created in the project, which was performed in collaboration with Ken White, PhD, professor at the University of Utah's Animal Dairy, and Veterinary Sciences Department. Utah Pioneer, did not race and has been serving as a "PR Mule" for the university.

"We are starting to get some answers about the success of this project," said Vanderwall. "The racing activity shows the animals performing their intended duty. Certainly the clones were competitive in the races, and their growth and development has been normal throughout their lifetimes."

The mules will continue racing on a circuit in California throughout the summer, with their next appearance in Stockton. Vanderwall was encouraged by the public response. "At Winnemucca it was very public, and the reaction was overwhelmingly positive," he said. "We've made the clones available to the general public from the start so they would have the opportunity to come and make a connection and discuss their opinions on cloning with us."

Vanderwall and Woods do not plan any more cloning studies, but will offer commercial cloning services that would require sending in a tissue sample collected by a local veterinarian.

About the Author

Amber Heintzberger

Amber Heintzberger is a journalist, photographer and award-winning author of Beyond the Track: Retraining the Thoroughbred from Racehorse to Riding Horse (Trafalgar Publishing, 2008). She lives in New York City.

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