Is this the way to a Tamarillo? Dangers lurk under the hype of champion-horse clones

 

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Tamarillo’s cloning has echoes of the mid-90s when Dolly the sheep was hailed as one of the most fascinating and scientific breakthroughs in decades. But just like back then, we should be cautious.

It’s wonderful in theory. The DNA of a horse groomed to be a multiple Olympic winner but for an injured stifle, has its genetic data implanted in a process that could breed another champion. It’s just one possibility. Here’s another: Sefton, the Household Cavalry horse blown up by the IRA, resurrected via a genetic incarnation.

But the potential complications should be considered too. Cloning of this kind is extremely expensive, complicated and largely inefficient. The success rate of achieving a cloned embryo is fairly rare, not to mention risky, and there are dangers that DNA could get damaged. If you have damaged DNA there are a whole series of potential side effects, metabolic and physiological: one is the possibility of cancer.

There is a wider fear that a move toward cloning could ultimately lead to a narrower gene pool.

The idea of a new generation of championship horses is great at conception stage when chequebooks are flashed – but what about when real life takes hold? Competition administrators and spectators may soon frown, loath to have identical animals competing against each other.

Of course much lies still to be discovered. Equestrianism is becoming hugely more popular in numerous parts of the world such as China and South America, with their emerging wealth. There, as well as other parts of the world, the prospect of cloned champions will be very tempting indeed. But before we go gung-ho into cloning more horses like Tamarillo 2, there should be reflection, monitoring and ongoing ethical and scientific review.

The author is a professor of Vetinerary Science at Nottingham University and chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities Horse Welfare Committee

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