Makin’ Babies: The Influence of Breeding Technologies, Part IV

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by Kristin Berkery

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There are other ethical concerns with using cloned animals for breeding purposes. Natural selection, in this case subfertility, would normally determine that LD Pistal’s genetic influence on the breed would be limited. Cloning might be warranted if he has physical traits or rare bloodlines that would be hard to find elsewhere, but that’s not the case with LD Pistal. His sire, Magnum Psyche, has sired more than 1,500 foals as of May 2011 and his dam, Halana, has produced five registered foals, three of which were sired by Padrons Psyche, his son Magnum Psyche, and another Padrons Psyche son, FS Ritz. Two of Halana’s foals were donated to the Salem Children’s Home in Flanagan, Illinois. (Thank you to Arlene Magid for researching Halana’s production record.)

On paper, LD Pistal doesn’t look particularly uncommon. LD Pistal’s pedigree is a popular “recipe” of Russian, Spanish, Polish, Egyptian, and American bloodlines. Conformationally, LD Pistal also resembles the majority of Arabian halter horses today.

In the case of showjumping Warmblood gelding ET, he was cloned so his athletic genes could continue into the next generation. But when he was a youngster, his light body type wasn’t desireable for the Hanoverian studbook in the 1980s and he was gelded. For the first time in history, we can geld good horses without the concern that their genes will be lost forever. But does that justify the possible complications of cloning?

Smart Little Lena and his five clones. Image created by Nature Biotechnology

In 2005 five clones were created of Quarter Horse cutting champion Smart Little Lena, who was no longer breeding. There are still frozen straws of his semen available, but his syndicate owners wanted to stretch Smart Little Lena’s influence well into the future. This certainly raises questions about how much of an impact any one horse should have on a breed, especially when clones can be produced indefinitely in the future, and how much profit motives should drive the decision to clone.

The clones triggered ongoing conflicts in the Smart Little Lena syndicate, spawning lawsuits and a major shakeup in management. In the meantime, one of the clones died of cancer and two were found to be infertile, with one having undescended testicles. The four living clones were sold at auction in December 2010.

You may be thinking it won’t matter that Smart Little Lena’s clones will be available for breeding in the near future since the American Quarter Horse Association won’t register clones or the offspring of clones. However, horses that compete at National Cutting Horse Association shows are not required to be registered, only age-verified by a veterinarian, and the NCHA has said it will allow clones to compete. So expect to see clones in cutting competition very soon.

Magnum Psyche, sire of LD Pistal. Photo by Luiz Rocco

As more clones are produced, there is the issue of ensuring cloned horses receive good care. Let’s say a stallion is found to be subfertile and his clone is used to sire his foals, but the original stallion’s fertility is restored (which can happen) — what about the clone? Is it automatically gelded? Should it continue to breed on behalf of its “parent”? What if a clone is found to be unsuitable for breeding? If it’s gelded and consequently devalued, will it be sold to an appropriate home where it will be cared for — or will it be dumped on the market, or worse, sold at a killer auction?

Texas A&M University reports that they have a 26% live foal rate per cloned embryo transferred, meaning there are many embryos that die in utero and a few foals that die after birth. While future technology may improve the success rate, is it ethical to be willing to lose that many foals in the pursuit of profits and extending a horse’s breeding influence? These clones are, after all, living, breathing animals with feelings and we live in a compassionate nation where many people try to buy products marked “Not tested on animals.”

Even more questions come to mind. Should a horse be cloned multiple times in order to increase its influence on a breed? Should a horse’s genes be available many years into the future, well past a horse’s natural lifetime, or past the time frozen semen is considered viable?

Since SCNT clones are not genetically identical to their “parent,” how would this affect DNA typing during the registration process? Perhaps most importantly, do financially-challenged horse breed registries have the manpower and the funds to investigate all these issues and then govern them? It’s quite a Pandora’s box.

Cloning is a hot topic in Quarter Horses – learn more about it at Quarter Horse News. The American Quarter Horse Journal published a very thorough article on the subject. Leave your opinions below.

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About Kristin Berkery

Kristin is a digital marketing expert and voiceover talent in Sacramento, California, with a life-long passion for horses. In her spare time she's active with her daughter and son. See Kristin's marketing agency and LinkedIn profile.

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