Sunday, June 13, 2010

Texas A&M: The Clone List Grows

Scientists at Texas A&M University (TAMU) College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences accomplished another successful cloning first after a foal was created and delivered using oocytes from a live mare. The successful delivery of this first of it's kinda clone, highlight TAMU's long tradition of veterinary science excellence.

Most notably, TAMU scientists created the first cloned domestic animal, a cat named 'cc', on December 22, 2001. TAMU is also the first academic institution to clone each of six different species: cattle, a Boer goat, pigs, a cat, a deer and a horse.

Kit Knotts, the owner of Mouse (the cloned foal) is very happy with the success. She had been emailing breeders around the world that she was looking for another horse, but she just couldn't find the right one. "I called and emailed breeders to spread the word that I was looking. Everything I could turn up was too small, too young, too old, not quite sound, etc. I realized I didn't want just another horse to have another body in the barn, I wanted another Marc." Knotts stated.

Knotts' efforts to find a horse that had the same qualities as her prized Lippizan stallion, Marc, (Pluto III Marcella) would lead her to TAMU's equine reproduction expert, Dr. Katrin Hinrichs.

Noted for achieving the first cloned foal in North American (the 3rd worldwide) in 2005, the lab has since produced twelve cloned foals. As of 2010, there are only three labs in the world that have reported the successful birth of cloned horses – TAMU, Viagen (a very successful commercial venture based in Texas), and the lab of Dr. Cesare Galli, in Italy.

"We have worked on this clone for about two years," said Hinrichs. "This is actually the first foal produced using oocytes, from live mares. We recovered the oocytes from our herd of research mares using the same method used to recover eggs from women for in vitro fertilization. We used the oocytes for the cloning process, which made it difficult as we had very few to work with at any one time. During the cloning process, we tested a new technique that has been reported in mice to decrease birthing problems. Mrs. Knotts has been very supportive of our efforts to clone her horse, and has even named the foal 'Mouse' in honor of the research that produced him."

For this successful clone, the experiment began with a biopsy of skin cells from Marc (the clone donor). Through the cloning process, using oocytes recovered from a live mare, viable embryos were developed and sent to Hartman Equine Reproduction Center, an embryo transfer facility in North Texas which serves a full range of specialized reproductive services. Minnie, the surrogate mare carrying Mouse, stayed at the Hartman Center for approximately 200 days, then was sent to her new home in Florida.

Minnie began to show signs of an early delivery, and was taken to the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine for observation and intervention. Mouse was eventually delivered and cared for at UF.

"Having Minnie with us for several months prior to foaling has been great," added Knotts. "The teamwork between Dr. Hinrichs and her colleagues at the University of Florida has been outstanding, frankly saving Mouse's life more than once before and after birth."

An important note, and one that Hinrichs was sure to bring up was that while Mouse is truly an identical twin to the original horse, Marc, but there will be differences as the foal grows due to environmental influences. This was highlighted in numerous news articles and a "This American Life" episode about Chance the bull, another TAMU clone.

Knotts was very happy about the whole process and concluded that she was very proud of the contributions the project has made to the body of knowledge about cloning, which "benefits far more areas of equine reproduction than most realize."

Lance D. Presser has a PhD in Microbiology & Immunology, and is a Public Health Laboratorian.

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