At the 2002 Denver Stock Show, there were two cloned beef heifers on exhibit in the display area of the yards for the first time ever. It will certainly not be the last time cloned cattle will be displayed at the Denver show. Like artificial insemination (AI) and embryo transfer (ET), cloning is here to stay. And like AI and ET, somatic cell cloning may become a common place option for cattlemen trying to produce more useful cattle for an increasingly demanding marketplace.
So, where can cloning technology fit in today’s cattle industry? Right now, you could say, cattle cloning is inefficient, expensive, and uncommon. At some time in the past, you could have made the same statement about AI and ET. And like AI and ET, in time cloning will become more efficient, cheaper and common. Because of the present economics, cost effective producer funded cloning efforts are limited to those animals that justify today’s $19,000 price tag. Examples of animals that would justify such an expensive effort include aged or injured genetically elite cows or bulls that have proven value and that provide valuable genetics to the industry, or valuable, currently popular animals whose demand for their genetics exceeds their supply.
Where can cloning fit in tomorrow’s industry? The answer to this question is much more exciting. As cloning technology becomes more efficient, it will become cheaper, hopefully much cheaper. As it becomes cheaper, cloning will become much more useful to the cattle industry. If you could produce exact (except younger), genetically identical copies of the best cow in your herd (or your neighbor’s herd) for about the same money as your next new, unproven replacement female, would you? Sure, it only makes sense to (cost effectively) remove as much guesswork as possible and use the best genetics available. Just like AI made the best bull genetics available to anyone willing to go to the trouble of getting set up to AI, cloning may provide the same cost effective access to the best female genetics to anyone willing to place cloned embryos in recipient cows.
If you let your imagination go a little bit, it may be possible to one day call up a genetics company and order cloned embryo copies of the same useful animal in a frozen straw, just like we do semen now. You might order 50 copies of a female that was proven in an environment like yours to be a very fertile, efficient, docile, profitable animal. At the same time you could order two or three copies of the same great bull you have used the last several years. How soon could this be possible? The cloning industry is developing faster than anyone would dared have forecast- only five years ago Dolly, the first clone, was produced. Amazing progress has been made in an incredibly short time.
But, back to today. Suppose you have an animal that is valuable, useful and may develop into one of the great animals of the breed. Valuable, but not proven to the point yet where you could justify a cloning project if it was injured or died. This animal might justify the much lesser expense of securing a cell line. The establishment of a cell line enables you to clone the animal later in the event of injury or death. For those producers that have young animals that show promise of developing into very valuable individuals, a cell line may make very good sense. For valuable, popular animals that are in very high demand, a cell line may be an excellent insurance policy.
So, what is the cost of the technology right now? The current cost of establishing a cell line is $950. The cost of a clone is $19,000 (first animal) and $5,000 for any additional animals produced. Compare that to last year’s cost of $25,000 and you can see a significant decrease in cost in a single year. By the way, Cyagra, the company I have worked with, guarantees a live, normal calf.
Have there been successes? Without question- currently, there are five clones of the Chi-registered club calf bull Full Flush on the ground, all born early in November 2001. I am involved in raising these animals for the owners of Full Flush, who intend to make this semen available to the club calf industry. There has been a successful cloning effort completed on the Chi-registered club calf bull Who Made Who. And there is a cloning effort currently underway on Heatseeker, another popular club calf sire. This cloning activity is not unique to the club calf industry. I am aware of bulls that have been cloned in other beef breeds, as well as the dairy industry.
Why haven’t we seen semen from these cloned animals on the market? In a letter dated 13 July 2001, the FDA has asked the industry to hold off on the use of these somatic cell cloned animals until it has examined the safety of their use in the food supply. A decision from the FDA is expected well before the end of 2002, and there seems to be little evidence at this time of any problem with safety.
So should we all rush out and contact a company to clone our favorite cow or bull? Well, I would not rush into it, but if you have an animal whose value might justify the expense, I would certainly look into it. And I would do it while the animal is still alive and a tissue sample is available for cell line establishment. Besides the Full Flush cloning effort, I am involved in several others, and even at the current price tag, they all make excellent economic sense. I know of several forward looking breeders who are securing cell lines on valuable animals they own, and that they may want to clone in the future.
Cloning is an option we all need to be aware of- and to possibly consider for current or future use. If you have questions about this technology, or want to look into its application, feel free to contact me, Dr. Don Coover, DVM, or Cyagra, the company that produced the clones of the animals I have worked with. (Dr. Coover, SEK Genetics, 9305 70th Road, Galesburg, KS 66740, 1-800-443-6389, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Cyagra, Mr. Ron Gillespie, 1-508-756-1212 ext 101, email@example.com)