Jun
13
2006

Race of the clones: Mules don't give a clear-cut answer

Racing Clone?: Mules are the first cloned animal to be pitted against each other in a race to see if there are differences between genetic make-up and physical training. (Photo by doctor_bob)
Racing Clone?: Mules are the first cloned animal to be pitted against each other in a race to see if there are differences between genetic make-up and physical training. (Photo by doctor_bob)

The differences between genetics and natural development have been theoretical discussions, up until a mule race earlier this month in Nevada.

Two cloned mules, with identical DNA, were part of the field of eight mules in a race at the Winnemucca Mule Races, Show & Draft Horse Challenge. But the results from the races were far from conclusive.

The brother clones finished third and seventh in the race against six other regularly bred mules. Clone number-one, Idaho Gem, was third in the 350-yard sprint with a time of 21.246 seconds. Idaho Star was in seventh place with a time of 22.181 seconds. The winning mule finished 2.5 lengths ahead of Idaho Gem with a time of 20.866 seconds.

So from that race, at least, there were no clear-cut answers to the differences between nature (genetics) and nurture (environmental impacts on development).

The racing finals that day were the first to match identical clones against each other in a race. The brothers had each won their preliminary heats the day before (with the same jockey riding each mule, by the way) to match up in the final race. Obviously, the same jockey wasn’t able to ride both mules in the final race.

Mules are an interesting species to do cloning research on. They are the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse, and usually are sterile. But with the cloned mules, identical DNA was taken from a fetus produced of the same parents that sired a champion mule racer.

But beyond that, cloning researchers are excited about the experiment for a lot bigger reason than wagering, however. They think the experiment with cloned mules could lead to break through information on treating cancer.

Equine animals have significantly lower cancer rates than humans and through the cloning process, cancer researchers are hoping to find out what advantages they might have over humans. Of particular interest is how their levels of calcium might impact their chances of developing cancer.

Not everyone is excited about the prospect of cloned mules, Spokespeople from the Humane Society of the United States object to the project noting that there currently is no shortage of horses or mules in the world and that the animals shouldn’t be exposed to the risks that come in cloning experiments.

What do you think? Does the possible knowledge we might gain from this research out-weigh potential risks to the animals? Are we playing Dr. Frankenstein games with these animals?

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