Champion Horse Cloned by Texas Breeder

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
April 4, 2006

Meet Royal Blue Boon Too, the first commercially cloned horse in the United States.

The cost of the frisky foal: U.S. $150,000.

That may be a bargain, considering that the original Royal Blue Boon, a 26-year-old American Quarter Horse now past breeding age, has earned more than $380,000 as a competition and show horse.

"Cloning is a very powerful tool," said Mark Walton of Texas-based ViaGen, one of the companies that produced the clone, at a press conference last Thursday.

"It literally takes the guesswork out of breeding."

ViaGen hopes the foal, born on an Oklahoma farm February 19, marks the successful start to a partnership it has struck with Encore Genetics, a horse-breeding and marketing firm.

Until now, horse cloning has been a purely scientific experiment. The first cloned horse was produced by Italian scientists in 2003. Since then, several more have been created.

Now, ViaGen and Encore hope to take cloning to the next level by duplicating as many horses per year as possible. To encourage sales, the company even gives horse owners a $60,000 discount on the price of a second clone of the same animal.

In addition to Royal Blue Boon, the companies have duplicated another horse, Tap O Lena, whose clone was born March 9.

ViaGen says it expects to produce seven cloned foals this year. It has also collected and frozen tissue samples from more than 75 champion horses for future cloning.

The cloning process used by the company is called nuclear transfer, in which DNA from a donor animal is transferred into eggs that have been stripped of their own genetic material. (For Kids: How Cloning Works)

The new embryos are grown in an incubator for several days and then implanted into recipient females. After a normal gestation period, the cloned foals are born.

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