In 1997 a group of Scottish scientists at the Roslin Institue successfully cloned a sheep and produced the famous “Dolly.” Dolly’s birth brought on a serious debate about what to do about “cloning”—an term that scientists use to describe the duplication of biological material. Immediately questions arouse surrounding the ethics of cloning because the procedure was often unsuccessful. The debate then centered around whether or not cloning should be used to create a human being—and the answer was a definitive no. Recently, cloning has been mostly out of the media, at least when compared to the media flurry surrounding Dolly and the birth of cloning. However, though it may have been kept out of the public eye, scientists have continued to perfect the cloning process to the point where cloning is now causing debate in a completely different community: the world of polo.
In 2005, in the finals of the world’s most prestigious polo tournament, the Argentine Open, a horse belonging to Adolfo Cambiaso, the undisputed best player in polo, fractured a leg and was put down. The horse, a stallion named Aiken Cura, was Cambiaso’s best horse so, in an effort to save the amazing horse’s genes, Cambiaso ordered the vet to take a sample of the horse’s cells and cryogenically freeze them. Cambiaso later teamed up a cloning company called Crestview Genetics who took Aiken Cura’s cell samples and successfully cloned a foal who was born in Texas last June. Other polo players have followed suit, and cloning has truly changed the game. Cloning does not guarantee that a cloned horse will perform as well as its genetic donor, and consequently most players are cloning their horses for breeding purposes because they are still genetically identical. Cloning a horse costs $150,000, and a good stallion can easily fetch at least $500,000 a year in stud fees. Cambiaso recently sold one of his cloned foals for $800,000.
So what is cloning, and how does it work? There are several different types of cloning, but the main types are: DNA cloning, reproductive cloning, and therapeutic cloning. The type of cloning we are dealing with is called reproductive cloning, which uses the DNA of one animal to generate another genetically identical animal. The process starts with, “somatic cell nuclear transfer” where the genetic material from the nucleus of a donor adult cell is transferred to an adult egg cell whose nucleus has been removed. Then, the reconstructed egg is treated with chemicals or an electric current, which will stimulate cell division. Later, when the cloned embryo reached a stable stage, it is placed into a female host where it will develop until birth. The result is an animal with an identical DNA, perfect for the world of horse breeding.