Italy creates first cloned horse


ITALY: A cloned foal whose mother is also the pony's twin sister has been born in Italy. The researchers believe horse cloning may make it possible to produce identical copies of champion jumpers and superior show horses.

Evidence of how complicated the bloodlines of cloned animals might become arrives from the Istituto Sperimentale Italiano Lazzaro Spallanzani, in Cremona. The foal, Prometea, after Prometheus, the character in Greek mythology who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, was born in Italy on May 28th this year. The mare who carried her coincidentally also provided the donor cell that allowed Prometea to develop, making the two horses both mother and daughter and also identical twins.

The Cremona research group used the same somatic cell cloning technique used to produce Dolly the sheep, the first cloned mammal. Since then the process has been used to clone mice, cattle, goats, rabbits, cats, pigs and most recently, mules. It involves replacing the nucleus of a viable egg cell with a nucleus taken from an adult cell and then jolting it with electricity to make it grow.

Dr Cesare Gali and colleagues in Cremona, fused skin cells taken from adult male and female horses with equine eggs recovered from an abattoir. Their results are described this morning in the journal, Nature.

The skin cell that produced Prometea came from her Haflinger mother, but the research team also attempted to clone skin cells taken from an Arabian thoroughbred male. The team cultured 513 eggs and 328 successfully fused and started to grow. The majority of these soon failed and only 22 developed to a cell bundle stage known as a blastocyst, eight from the male donor and 14 from the female Haflinger.

In turn only four of these resulted in pregnancies. Two were quickly lost and one aborted after 187 days of gestation. Prometea, however, made it to full term and was born after a pregnancy lasting 336 days, weighing in at 36kg.

The official Stud Book which details champion horse bloodlines will not recognise these 'new champions'. The Stud Book only includes horses conceived naturally. No animal conceived in this way or through artificial insemination can be registered.