Utah State University cloning research covers new ground in the lab as well as the racetrack.
Utah State University cloning research is not only having success in the lab, but at the racetrack as well. Idaho Gem, the world's first equine mule clone, and his brother, Idaho Star, products of a USU and University of Idaho research project, competed on the racing circuit in Nevada for the first time in early June 2006.
The USU/UI research team became the first in the world to clone a mule in May 2003. The research team, which includes White and UI professors Gordon Woods and Dirk Vanderwall, successfully cloned Idaho Gem, May 4, 2003; Utah Pioneer, June 9, 2003; and a third mule Idaho Star, July 27, 2003. The DNA came from a fetal cell culture first established in 1998 at the University of Idaho.
The race received extensive media attention in more than 600 news outlets around the world, including The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The London Times, ABC, CBS, ESPN and CNN.
USU animal, dairy and veterinary science professor Ken White is a widely recognized cattle cloning expert and member of the USU/UI research team that cloned the mules. White said that cloned mules present important opportunities because they might help advance cancer research.
The mule cloning is commercially significant for the horse industry, but the research team is most excited because the project provides a new animal model, the horse, which they hope can help advance understanding of human cancer.
The team observed that stallions, male horses, do not develop prostate cancer and their basic metabolism is "slow" compared to humans and many other mammals. They think the difference in cellular activity might play a role in both cancer development and reproduction.
"Understanding the unique requirements for developing cloned equine embryos may also open the way to cloning horses with important genetic traits," said White. "The only way to produce genetic copies of an outstanding mule is through cloning."
The cloned mules 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 eight years ago at UI with Taz's mother and father.
"Mule racing is an excellent venue for showcasing cloned animals," said White. "This is a very athletic event and it takes a lot of energy. The animals have to be healthy and on top of their game. When the public has the opportunity to see this, it is a positive thing."
The mules finished third and seventh in the race, but White said the strong performance of the mules is key in showing the public that cloning technology can produce normal, healthy animals. Both Idaho Gem and Idaho Star are expected to appear later this summer on the mule racing circuit, which takes place primarily in California. Utah Pioneer may begin racing next year.
White joined USU's College of Agriculture in 1991 and was named a full professor and director of USU's Center for Development and Molecular Biology in 1995.
For more information about USU's animal, dairy and veterinary science department in the College of Agriculture, visit http://www.advs.usu.edu/. For more information on White, visit http://www.advs.usu.edu/people/kwhite/.