It will be nature vs. nurture when the University of Idaho's two mule clones Idaho Gem and Idaho Star take to the racetrack at Winnemucca, Nev., June 3 and 4 for the first leg of mule racing's triple crown. The mules will become the first cloned athletes to participate in any sport.
After Winnemucca, the clones are expected to race at the San Joaquin Fair in Stockton, Calif., in late June, and may continue racing on the California fair circuit throughout the summer.
Idaho Gem, born May 4, 2003, is the world's first clone born to the horse family. Idaho Star, born July 27, 2003, followed the birth of a horse clone in Italy and his triplet brother mule clone Utah Pioneer born June 9, 2003.
The three were born as a result of Project Idaho, a six-year collaborative project involving University of Idaho animal and veterinary science Professors Gordon Woods and Dirk Vanderwall and Utah State University animal science Professor Dr. Ken White.
The three mules were cloned from mule fetal skin cells so there is no adult animal with which to compare them. More important, however, is they will provide a unique test of whether genetics or environment, nature or nurture, is most important.
The mules are leased by two mule-racing businessmen, Don Jacklin of Post Falls, Idaho, and Roger Downey of Albuquerque, N.M. The businessmen hired two trainers, who have different training methods, to prepare the mules for the track.
The mules' genetic heritage is from a racing line. Their quarter horse dam, Mesmerizer, and Spanish jack donkey sire, Coalee McGee, were paired to produce several outstanding racing mules, including world champion Taz.
The cloning project also provided evidence to support a new line of investigation into human diseases, including prostate cancer, pursued by Gordon Woods, who directs the Northwest Equine Reproduction Laboratory in the University of Idaho College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
Woods, who is president of the private company CancEr2, was recently issued U.S. Patent 7,033,615, "Methods for regulating levels of zinc, cadmium and calcium in humans and for diagnosing, or screening for the risk of developing, diseases associated with abnormal levels of cadmium, zinc and calcium in body fluids and tissues."
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