Nope, not these guys...
|5 clones of Smart Little Lena|
The horse-cloning debate is heating up again. Two Texas horse breeders are suing AQHA over the organization's refusal to register clones. Although the breeders are asking for $6 million in "damages," this case isn't really about money. Since it costs almost $200,000 to clone a horse, and both have cloned many, they obviously aren't hurting for cash. No, this case is about forcing AQHA to change its rules... and the tactic has worked in the past.
When embryo transfer was a new technology, AQHA refused to register more than one foal per mare per year. After a big lawsuit, the organization backed off, and now mares can be "moms," if only genetically, to registrable foals many times per year. Will the same thing happen with cloning? Why should we even care?
We should care because cloning may contribute to destroying the last vestige of integrity in breeds.
And no, I'm not referencing some weird theory about messing with genes. It's not the science of cloning I'm worried about.
|Anti-vaccine poster, 1800s|
Remember my "Where Are We Going?" post? I talked about how the horse world is breeding more and more for fashion, not function. We're picking horses who have HYPP or super-dished faces or tiny feet, and making LOTS more of them. Technology has only increased that trend. Things like embryo transfers and artificial insemination already allow people to breed ten thousand offspring from one currently-popular stallion over his lifetime. But what if we used cloning to make three copies of the same stallion? We could breed forty thousand offspring from him!
Just think of what might have happened if cloning had been around before Impressive died. There might not be a stock horse in the world today unaffected by HYPP!
I'm not saying there aren't legitimate uses for cloning. There are. I feel particularly sympathetic to owners of awesome geldings who could never have their beloved horse's foal without cloning. I also think that, used properly, cloning could help us disseminate good genes more widely, improving breeds everywhere.
I hope AQHA remains strong against registering clones, but I fear they will not. They always have been an organization that cares more about big bucks than ethics. The Jockey Club can be relied on to stand strong (they still don't even allow AI) but the Thoroughbred industry simply isn't as influential as it once was, especially here in America. Finally, with Olympic officials declaring last year that horse clones will be eligible to compete in the Games, there is even more incentive to clone.
There is some hope in slowing down the race to clone, however. That hope lies in the science of cloning itself, which we are slowly discovering to be less reliable than we thought-- in a good way.
These two cats are Rainbow and CC ("copy cat"). CC is Rainbow's daughter... and also her clone. Yet they do not look or act alike. Rainbow was a calico, with lots of orange, and during her life she was a rather aloof cat. CC's fur contains no orange, and she is a cuddle-bug. If you look back to the first picture on this post, the five Little Lena clones are also very different than they first appear. Some are taller, the one on the far left has very turned-out legs, and of course none of them have the same markings.
It turns out that while cloning can copy genes, it can't always make sure those genes are expressed in the same way. Some genes "turn on or off" randomly during an organism's growth. In addition, we now know that a mother's placenta, the mother's environment, the baby's environment in utero and of course upbringing can play a huge role in determining what an animal looks and acts like. Because cloning is so new, we have had little chance to compare the athletic performance of cloned horses to their "originals," but I suspect there will be vast differences.
We tend to think of the cloning process as a rubber stamp that produces the same thing, over and over. But in fact, cloning may be more like a book read out loud by two different people: the words are the same, but there is such a difference in tone, emphasis, accent and enunciation, each person's recital is like a whole different story. If this is the case, cloning may become passe before it can do any harm or good in the horse world. Who would want to spend so much money on such an unsure outcome?
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