To Clone or Not to Clone: Should It Be A Question?
Posted on 05/08/2014 in Your Dog, Your Rights.
Sara Chisnell, UKC Legal Counsel
The idea of cloning an animal sounds so sci-fi and unrealistic to most, yet it’s slowly becoming an emerging practice in the horse world. Is it something that may begin happening in realm of purebred dogs? My interest in the subject first became piqued when I heard about the American Quarter Horse Association lawsuit regarding their rule against registering clones. My initial reaction was 100% siding with the registry, and that clones are patently unfair. What if everyone in horse racing started cloning—then what, we have a Kentucky Derby full of 20 Secretariats? The use of cloning is a little more complex than that. After some more research, which I limited to cloning in horses and what little has been done with dogs, and reading the lawsuit, my mind has opened a bit to the idea.
Cloning horses occurs at a much greater rate, and for more sophisticated reasons, than it does with dogs. The first equine animal cloned was Idaho Gem, a racing mule, in 2003. (I know what you’re thinking. There are racing mules?) Via Gen, a cloning lab that came about around the same time as Idaho Gem, based in Texas, is one of the biggest contributors, and responsible for many of the cloned horses in the world. Two of the most famous are Sapphire and Gem Twist; both were very successful Grand Prix show jumpers. Both, however, were geldings, meaning they were neutered and could not reproduce. Gem Twist, in particular, was an Olympic medalist and unprecedented Horse of the Year three times. He died in 2006, but tissue had already been preserved. He has been cloned twice; and one clone, Gemini, has already produced a foal. A famous three-day eventer horse, Tamarillo, has also been cloned for the same reason; he is a gelding. The 2016 Olympics will be the first to allow cloned horses to enter. The practice has also become very popular in the sport of polo in South America. The first crop of polo clones are actually competing and have been very successful players.
While the cloned polo horses are actually competing, for the most part cloned horses are only used for breeding purposes. The process is expensive and the resulting horses worth so much, the risk of injury from competition is not worth the gamble when the real purpose of the clone is to reproduce from an animal that you could not otherwise. Horses that are retired to stud from racing are treated the same way because of their high value (often in the millions); most are never even ridden again.
The process begins with taking a tissue sample and preserving it - called gene banking - which itself costs $1,500. The tissue cannot be taken from a deceased animal. The cloning process itself costs around $170,000. The embryo created with the preserved cells is put into a surrogate mare, and if all goes well and succeeds, 11 months later you have a cloned foal.
Some have compared the practice of cloning to “playing God”, and that it’s unnatural. A valid argument to that is that there is nothing natural about modern breeding; basic selective breeding itself is not “natural”, and then there are other practices beyond that that have become the norm, such as artificial insemination and embryo transfer. What is natural about using semen frozen 30 years ago from a dog that has long since passed? Cloning an animal in no way guarantees that you will have another winner or Olympic medalist; it only guarantees that you will have the exact same breeding as the original model. Too many other factors come into play for performance success, such as environment, nutrition, training, etc. Clones could potentially be invaluable to breeding programs where they are cloned from a neutered animal.
Where clones are really hitting a roadblock is in registration. In much of the equine performance world, registration is not important and not a requirement to entering performance events as it is in most of the dog world. The U.S. Equestrian Federation has no position or restriction against cloned horses, and the Fédération Équestre International reversed its previous stance and now allows them in competition. However, many of the USEF member affiliates that are breed registries have their own position against clones. The Jockey Club, which is the only registry for racing Thoroughbred horse in the U.S., does not even permit artificial insemination (AI), and actually specifies that breeding must be done through physical mounting and natural gestation. Clearly, no cloning would be permitted. That may change after the ruling in the recent American Quarter Horse Association case.
The AQHA was recently sued by Abraham Equine, Inc., because of their rule on clones. The AQHA is one of the largest horse registries in the world, and essentially the only registry for the Quarter Horse breed. The breeding and registration rules are always evolving, and are voted on by the membership and the Board. The AQHA used to have the same rule as the Jockey Club, requiring live cover only, but have evolved as the different breeding practices have become more mainstream. In 2002 they went so far as to change a rule to allow the registration of more than one offspring per year from a mare through embryo transfer. They also now permit Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection.
When cloning horses first began, the AQHA adopted a rule excluding clones from the stud book, and the Stud Book and Registration Committee, which reports to the AQHAs membership and the Board, has continued over the years to recommend retaining the rule after receiving at least four requests to rescind the rule. The SBRC is comprised of AQHA members that have some breeding experience and serves to review proposed changes to registration rules and make recommendations on the rules to the AQHA membership.
Abraham Equine, Inc., had cloned some successful Quarter Horses and used them for breeding purposes, and wanted to register the offspring of the clones. They brought suit under the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Clayton Act, and the Texas Free Enterprise Act, all of which govern are laws dealing with monopolization. As the AQHA is essentially the only registry for Quarter Horses, it is basically a monopoly over the Quarter Horse market. Abraham Equine, Inc., claimed in their suit that refusing registration to the offspring of their clones is an abuse of the AQHA monopoly, has no reasonable business justification, and adversely affects competition. It bars all entry into the market for the horses that originate from clones, because there is nowhere else for them to register as Quarter Horses and they are barred from all AQHA competition. It also devalues their horses. So they sought a permanent injunction against the AQHA, which would be the court ordering them to change the rule, and also sought an award of damages for the loss of value in their horses and lost profits and attorneys’ fees. In August, a federal jury found in favor of Abraham Equine, Inc. While no damages were awarded, the AQHA has been ordered to amend its rules and also to register the clones and their offspring. Abraham was also awarded nearly a million dollars in attorneys’ fees. AQHA has filed an appeal.
Does this have any sort of implication for the dog world? Well, if cloning ever becomes more streamlined and cost effective, it could. It is definitely a case to watch. If the ruling is upheld, it will rock the Thoroughbred racing world.
Dogs have a different history with cloning than horses. While horses have been cloned with the intent of breeding, that’s not been the case so much with dogs. The first cloned dog was Snuppy, an Afghan Hound, in South Korea in 2005. It involved 123 surrogate dams before success was finally reached. Several detection dogs were cloned for South Korea, as well. Some of the scientists that were part of this cloning went on to become part of a company that offers commercial cloning.
The first commercially cloned pet was a pet cat for a Texas woman in 2004 by a company called Genetic Savings and Clone to the tune of $50,000. A few other companies have arisen as well, and some tissue/DNA banking has come about as well, to preserve for the day that cloning becomes more feasible and affordable. It appears that the only dogs cloned so far have been for purposes of replacing a pet, not for breeding. No dog registry has yet made a direct rule. The Kennel Club (England) has taken the stance that breeding dogs is done for improvement of breeds, and that cloning does nothing to further that as it only produces replicas of the same dogs. AKC has not made a strong stance yet. Nor has UKC; dog cloning hasn’t occurred enough to create the necessity for a rule at this time.
What do you think? If this became more mainstream and affordable, like AI, is it something you would consider using in your breeding program? I’d love to hear our dog owners’ thoughts on this, so email me your take on cloning at firstname.lastname@example.org.