Skip to main content

Third Cloned Mule

The scientists who produced the world’s first clone born to the horse family won the trifecta Sunday with the successful birth of a third cloned mule foal.

The Project Idaho team of Utah State University and University of Idaho scientists won the worldwide race to clone an equine with the birth of Idaho Gem May 4. Utah Pioneer, the world's second equine clone, was born June 9, 2003. The third mule clone was born at about 1:30 a.m., July 27.

The name of the new clone will be chosen during a contest geared to Idaho fourth grade students during their studies of the state's history. A website for school children about the clones and the contest will launch Sept. 1 at

The third foal's name will be announced during the UI College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Ag Days celebration Oct. 17. The three clones will be on display together for the first time then.

Dr. Dirk Vanderwall, who specializes in the care of mares and foals, said the three foals are exceptionally healthy and vigorous. The third birth gave the team of Dr. Gordon Woods and Vanderwall, both UI professors of animal and veterinary science, and Dr. Ken White, a professor in Utah State's Animal, Dairy and Veterinary Sciences Department, a first, second and third in the equine cloning race. In horse track terminology, the successful bettor who can pick the win, place and show finishers in a horserace wins the trifecta, a rare and valuable event.

two mules

The health of the three mule foals is intensively monitored. Their temperature, pulse and all other signs show that they are developing normally, Vanderwall said.

The birth of Idaho Gem and his vigor helped lay to rest any doubts about the clones? health May 4. "Here's this robust, vigorous healthy foal", Vanderwall said. "There's nothing out of the ordinary that we can see."

Vanderwall is an invited speaker who will discuss horse cloning at a meeting of equine specialists gathered at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., this week.

The success of the Project Idaho cloning work may lessen the doubts of some about the viability of equine clones. Other labs in Italy, England, Texas and Louisiana have attempted to clone horses, but none have yet announced success.

"In a nutshell, I think it was a big unknown about how well equine clones would do", Vanderwall said. "Based on efforts to clone other species like cattle, there have been some problems."

"We were happy to see that our clones have been born healthy and appear to be absolutely normal", Vanderwall added.

He spent three years working at one of the nation's largest standard-bred horse farms in the country shortly after graduating from veterinary school. Vanderwall estimates that he's assisted with the birth of more than 350 foals.

The Project Idaho team began its first attempt at cloning in 1998 using a fetal cell culture first established at UI. A key change in its cloning protocol in 2001 pointed the way to success.

That change, the adjustment of calcium levels in the fluid holding the single-cell clones, stemmed from work by Woods, who directs the Northwest Equine Reproduction Laboratory on the UI's Moscow campus.

Woods first discovered the difference in calcium levels between men and stallions after he became intrigued by the difference in cancer rates between the two. Reports of stallions with prostate cancer are unknown while the incidence of prostate cancer is high in older men, particularly those on western-type diets.

The change in calcium levels dramatically increased the success of the team's equine cloning efforts.