Did you know that the horse was the seventh species to be cloned? The first cloned Equine was a mule named Idaho Gem, who was an identical genetic copy of his brother. The world’s first genetically engineered horse, a Haflinger filly named Promethea, was born later in the same year on the 28th of May 2003. Named after Prometheus, a Titan in Greek mythology, who stole fire from the gods of Mount Olympus and gave it to humankind.
Scientists at the Laboratory of Reproductive Technology in Cremona, Italy, used a standard cloning procedure to create Promethea. For the procedure, DNA from the nucleus of skin cells from the animal to be cloned were fused with an empty egg from another source. The resulting embryos were then implanted in the mother’s womb. Of seventeen embryos that were implanted into mares, Promethea was the only one to survive.
Besides being the only foal born, Promethea was rather remarkable in that DNA tests confirmed she was genetically identical to her surrogate mother. Her mother provided the DNA, something which was unplanned, according to Professor Cesare Galli, the director of the Laboratory of Reproductive Technology in Cremona.
Five years later, in 2008 Promethea gave birth to a healthy colt named Pegasus, showing that cloned adults can live normal healthy lives and reproduce naturally. Prof. Galli had cloned several other animals since Promethea, including other horses, pigs, and cattle. The Catholic church excommunicated him as a result.
Fourteen years after Promethea’s birth, cloning horses has become a common phenomena. In December 2016, cloned horses caught the media’s attention yet again, when Adolfo Cambiaso, one of the world’s best polo players, rode six different horses to help his team win a game in Buenos Aires. All six of his horses were clones of the same mare!
While cloning horses is pretty mainstream in the sports arena, where top performances horses are often cloned, the benefits of cloning will be realized in preserving endangered breeds.