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Cloning horses creates mixed emotions for thoroughbred industry

By: Brittany Pelletz Email
By: Brittany Pelletz Email

There's no horsing around around at Viagen, a company in Austin, Texas that clones living animals, including horses.

People are paying top dollar for foals, who are not bred on the farm but instead inside of a lab.

Cloning has created some controversy, but supporters say there is nothing wrong with it.

"They're not creating monsters. These horses are as real and natural as anything you've ever seen and healthy, " says Clint Johnson, a retired professional rodeo cowboy.

Lab technicians collect tissue samples from living animals, including horses. The DNA from those cells produces embryo copies through a process called Somatic cell transfer.

"Here we have a horse named Chloe. And this is the reason why we clone. She couldn't reproduce, but she's been to national finals 19 times, " says veterinarian, Dr. Gregg Veneklasen.

Viagen claims its success rate in getting cloned embryos to new born animals has climbed, but admits the process isn't perfect.

"The problem with just copying DNA is this: it's like copying a book and all you copy is the letter and not the spacing between the words punctuation, says Dr. Kevin FitzGerald, S.J./ Georgetown University.

Cloned horses were allowed for the first time this year in the Olympics. But back home in Kentucky, cloning is kept far away from the thoroughbreds.

"I think cloning and artificial insemination definitely would take away from the purity of the thoroughbred breed in my opinion," says Case Clay, President of Three Chimneys Farm in Woodford County.

Clay believes cloning thoroughbreds would take away the pride that goes along with breeding, "A good example is this year's Kentucky Derby winner, I'll Have Another was sired by our stallion, Flower Alley. So everybody here on the farm got very excited. He went on to win the Preakness. There's definitely pride in a foal being conceived in your barn and then going on to do great things."

Despite technological advancements, many in the thoroughbred industry are more concerned with upholding tradition.

"It's an ever changing world. I think that the thoroughbred business has its pluses and minuses by being steeped in tradition. Sometimes we can't get out of our own way as an industry. However, I firmly believe that the stance on cloning and artificial insemination in thoroughbreds is the right one, " adds Clay.

For now, there is no indication that these thoroughbreds will ever be anything but one of a kind.


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