DALLAS and AUSTIN, Texas -- The legendary cutting horse Royal Blue Boon, a registered American Quarter Horse, became the first U.S. mare to be commercially cloned when a foal was born to a recipient mare Feb. 19.

Livestock cloning company ViaGen Inc. is partnering with equine marketing firm Encore Genetics to create the first commercial horse cloning operation in the country. The companies announced the births of two famous horse clones and news of other pregnancies yesterday.

The first clone foal -- Royal Blue Boon Too -- was born healthy on Royal Vista Southwest farms in Purcell, Okla., and continues to thrive there.

She was joined soon after by a clone of the mare Tap O Lena, born at the same farm on March 9, 2006. Two clones of the famous mare Bet Yer Blue Boons are expected to be born any day.

Including the foals announced yesterday, seven clones of famous horses will be born this year. Many other pregnant ViaGen/Encore mares are due next year. The companies have also gene-banked over 75 champion horses from multiple breeds and disciplines.

"From the time I transferred the embryo into the recipient mare, these pregnancies were normal in every way and the births followed suit," said Jim Bailey, DVM and manager of Royal Vista Southwest, a breeding technology center in the heart of Oklahoma horse country. "The resulting foals were born normally and immediately stood to nurse. They bonded well with the recipient mares and continue to grow and play in the sun."

Genetic Preservation

Until cloning became commercially viable, there was no way to duplicate a genetically superior animal to extend its influence on a breed or species. In commercial livestock production, cloning has been used in sheep, hogs and cattle. Until now, horse cloning has been a scientific experiment.

With Royal Blue Boon Too, ViaGen and Encore Genetics have partnered to preserve some of the greatest genetics in cutting horse history. Royal Blue Boon, the donor mare, is the all-time leading producer of cutting horses in the world with personal lifetime earnings of $381,764 and produce earnings of well over $2.5 million dollars. It is this unique value of the mare that identified this registered American Quarter Horse as a specimen worthy of preservation.

At 26, the old mare is seeing the end of her long and prosperous career and her reproductive days are well behind her. With that fact in mind, the owner of Royal Blue Boon made the decision to clone her cutting horse champion.

"This animal has created a legacy in the cutting arena that is unmatched by any other mare, and I simply could not imagine not being able to continue to breed this fine animal and improve the genetics of future generations of cutting horses," says Elaine Hall of Weatherford, Texas, the owner of Royal Blue Boon and Royal Blue Boon Too.
Through the continued performance of her progeny, Royal Blue Boon proved her genetic value to Hall and her husband, Larry. (Photo of mare and clone here.)

The Cloning Process

"The process of cloning is a state-of-the-art reproductive technology, one that allows the breeder to preserve genetics and expand the reproductive potentials of their superior animals," says Irina Polejaeva, PhD, chief scientific officer for ViaGen, the company that provides the animal cloning technology.

The clone is produced by first taking a small tissue biopsy from the animal to be reproduced. This sample is shipped to ViaGen's lab where cells are grown in culture. Then, through nuclear transfer, DNA from the donor's cells is transferred into enucleated oocytes (eggs from which the genetic material has been removed).

The new embryos are grown in an incubator for several days and then transferred to recipient females as with traditional embryo transfer. After a normal gestation period, the cloned foals are born.

"The idea that we can use the best genetics for specific breeding purpose makes cloning and gene banking very attractive options for reproductive purposes," says Mark Walton, president of ViaGen. "Horse breeders have always selected their genetics very carefully based upon the performance of the sire and dam, as well as the performance of the progeny of a bloodline. Using a cloned line for breeding will extend the time over which a superior individual can be used."

The companies have sold horse clones worldwide. Several have been sold in Europe through one of Encore's marketing partners -- a French company named Cryozootech.

Based in Austin, Texas, ViaGen is a global provider of advanced livestock genetic technologies, including cloning. ViaGen's industry-leading compilation of livestock genomic data and patented breeding and product identification processes are used in the cattle, swine and equine industries to obtain verifiably superior genetics.

Based in Weatherford, Texas, Encore Genetics serves a worldwide base of horse breeders interested in preserving the superior genetics of their stock and producing animals that are genetically identical to top performers in both the show arena and the breeding barn.

SOURCE: ViaGen, Inc. via PR newswire.