Second Cloned Mule

LOGAN, UTAH - The same research team that produced the world's first cloned member of the horse family, a mule, has repeated its success with the early morning birth of "Utah Pioneer" On June 9, 2003.

Researchers Ken White from Utah State University, and Gordon Woods and Dirk Vanderwall from the University of Idaho said the male mule foal's birth was natural and unassisted. His surrogate mother is Idaho Rose.

The birth was also a bit of a surprise. "Dirk was there yesterday and looked at the mare. We were pretty sure the foal was still at least a couple of days away", Woods said. Monday morning a little after 5, Utah Pioneer joined his brother, Idaho Gem, as the only equine clones in the world.

"I planned to be in Idaho to see the second foal's birth," said White, "But he and his surrogate mother had other ideas."

Named for the hearty pioneers who crossed the Rockies to settle the Beehive State, Utah Pioneer weighed 78 pounds at birth, and according to Woods, "is healthy and already very active."

White described Utah Pioneer as "a beautiful foal, with a very good mother who is pretty stubborn and very protective of him."

The equine cloning team will again submit samples to a University of California Davis laboratory for independent verification as they did with Idaho Gem. Woods said he has no doubt about the outcome: "He's a male mule, and he looks like Idaho Gem. He is what he is."

The UI-Utah State team is the first to succeed among several teams worldwide attempting to clone a member of the horse family. The 2002 preliminary testing showed the method developed by the researchers to successfully clone a mule should work equally as well with a horse, Woods said.

"It basically came down to a matter of numbers, and we wanted to focus most of our attention on cloning a mule, which was our original objective", Vanderwall said.

White, professor of animal science in Utah State's College of Agriculture, is widely recognized as an expert on cattle cloning and brought cloning expertise to the team. Vanderwall, who like Woods, earned doctor of veterinary medicine and Ph.D. degrees, brought extensive clinical expertise to the project.

"About four years ago Gordon (Woods) visited my lab, watched us work and asked a lot of questions," White recalled. "When he told me he wanted to try to clone a mule, I told him all the reasons it was going to be very difficult to do. There are similarities between cloning equines and other species, but there are some very significant differences and critical pieces of the pie that were not known."

Others on the Utah State portion of the research team include White's graduate students Ben Sessions, who is pursuing a master's degree, and doctoral candidates Ki Aston and Barry Pate.

"From the very beginning this project has been about collaboration and partnership", said Woods, a professor of animal and veterinary science in UI,s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. "Neither university could have succeeded without the other."

White agreed. "This is an important birth because it provides repeatability to the project and strengthens the results", he said.

"The name of the second animal, Utah Pioneer, underlines the great cooperation between Utah State and University of Idaho and the pioneering impact of these animals on animal agriculture," White added.

The birth of Idaho Gem was announced by Science magazine May 29. Both cloned foals are full siblings of Taz, a champion racing mule owned by Idaho businessman, UI benefactor and mule enthusiast Don Jacklin of Post Falls. The foals carry identical DNA from a fetal skin cell culture established five years ago at UI with Taz's mother and father.

"The birth of the second equine clone in the world is tremendously important. It validates the repeatability of the University of Idaho-Utah State technology", Jacklin said.

The story of Idaho Gem played in news outlets around the world both because the clones were the first born in the horse family and because of their possible significance for future medical research.

Cloning is not a simple or inexpensive process, White said, but in species where individual animals are extremely valuable and in the case of endangered species, cloning is an important advancement in reproduction.

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