by Kristin Berkery
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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?
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.
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.