The first ever clone of a champion racehorse was unveiled on Thursday at a press conference in Italy.

The foal was cloned from a skin cell of Pieraz, a multiple world champion in equine endurance races of up to 50 kilometres.



Unlike conventional horseracing, which bans the use of non-natural methods of breeding, including cloning, endurance racing is among the half dozen or so equine sports which would allow cloned competitors. Others include dressage, showjumping, three-day-eventing, polo and carriage horse racing.



It is the first time an elite racehorse has been cloned, and comes two years after the appearance of Prometea, the first and only other cloned horse.



“Prometea was just a scientific experiment and, scientifically, there’s not much new about the new clone,” says Cesare Galli, who produced both horses at the University of Bologna in Cremona, Italy. “But from an industry viewpoint, the new horse is the real thing.”



Like most endurance racehorses, Pieraz was castrated young and so cannot breed. The idea of cloning him was to “recreate his testicles” for breeding purposes, says Eric Palmer of Cryozootech, a company based in Paris, France, which supported Galli’s latest cloning work.



“The plan is to make this horse a stallion,” says Palmer, and the clone will be mature enough to breed within two years. But although the new clone is Pieraz’s genetic twin, he says there is no guarantee that it will perform as well as the champion racehorse. Environmental factors could be crucial.



The clone is the first of many planned by Cryozootech. “We have samples of 33 horses in our genetic bank,” says Palmer. They include samples from ET, the world’s top showjumping horse, and from Rusty, a top dressage horse.



Galli created Prometea and the latest clone using the same technique – implanting skin cells into eggs emptied of their own genetic material. Galli had improved upon his success rate, with 15% of the embryos created suitable for transplant this time, compared to just 3% with Prometea.



But the foal was the only live birth from the 34 embryos Galli implanted into 12 foster mothers, three of which became pregnant. Galli says the foal is healthy: “It was born in February and has been very well.”



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