One of the most ironically but fitting aspects of the advent of equine cloning in the United States is that the pioneer clones were not graceful show horses or robust athletes but champion racing mules from the Northwest who received genes not just for racing but for personality of their species.
Pioneering scientists who wanted to be taken seriously were always a bit in danger of being upstaged by their product.
One of those pioneers died this week. Dr Gordon Woods led the team at the University of Idaho that produced the world’s first equine clone – a perfect mule foal named Idaho Gem – on May 4, 2003. Idaho Gem’s brothers – Utah Pioneer and Idaho Star – were born later that year. The accomplishment thrust the team’s research onto the international stage.
As scientifically and commercially significant as the cloning was to the horse industry, Dr. Woods was most excited about further exploring the connection between the cellular biology that led to the clone success and the cellular activity associated with age-onset diseases in humans such as cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s Disease. After the cloning project, he continued to use the horse as a model for better understanding human health, and moved on to Colorado State University, where he was working at the time of his death.
Dr Woods earned his doctor of veterinary medicine degree at Colorado State University in 1975 and completed his residency in large animal reproduction at the University of Pennsylvania, New Bolton Center. He then enrolled at the University of Wisconsin where he worked with Dr. O.J. Ginther and earned his master’s and doctoral degrees in reproductive biology. He joined the faculty of the New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in 1983 as an assistant professor.
He returned to Idaho in 1986, founding the Northwest Equine Reproduction Laboratory and teaching at Washington State University and later at the University of Idaho where he served as a professor in the Department of Animal and Veterinary Science. In 2007, he moved his program to Colorado State.
He founded a private company, CancEr2, to explore basic research on the physiological bases of cancer and also served as president of EquinE2, a company created to commercialize horse reproduction technology and was a principal in another company, ClonE2, which was formed to offer horse cloning services commercially.
Donations in Dr Woods’ memory may be sent to a fund at “Colorado 4-H Foundation/OMK,” Colorado State University Extension, 4040 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins CO 80523-4040.
Thanks to Colorado State University for their help with this news. I remember when all three of the cloned mules were going to run in the same race. I’m very sorry to hear that we’ve lost Dr. Woods, after having written so many articles about his work and the mules. He truly was a pioneer.