by Fran Jurga | 9 March 2009 | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com
Clones are knocking on the door of the American Quarter Horse Association, seeking legitimate places in the largest breed registry in the world. "Go away! Come back next year!" came the cry from within at yesterday's AQHA committee meeting. (Fran Jurga/Puppet Tool software image)
Yesterday was billed as the Day of Decision at the annual convention of the American Quarter Horse Association in San Antonio, Texas. The issue: the AQHA's Stud Book and Registration Committee was scheduled to vote on the inclusion of clones (genetic replicas via engineered reproduction and DNA replacement) in the definition of an American Quarter Horse, opening the door for clones to be eligible for registration.
First reports from the San Antonio meeting indicate that a motion to postpone the decision for another year was passed by the committee. However, I believe the committee's recommendation needs the official stamp of the larger organization, as well as the appointment of a task force to further study the implications of registering clones, leading up to another airing at the 2010 AQHA Convention.
This story is not dead. Just like the late great Quarter horses who have been cloned, the story keeps having new life breathed into it. Over the past 10 years, the AQHA has progressed (or regressed, according to your political view) to allow frozen and fresh artificial insemination...then survived a lawsuit that opened the door to allow embryo transfer...and finally winds up with genetic clones on the doorstep of the registry office.
Clones may be the ultimate and most expensive "unwanted horses" in the universe, at least temporarily, when it comes to registration-paper legitimacy. That will surely change, even as multiple clones of champion cutting horse Smart Little Lena grow up in their "equus non grata" state of limbo. Other clones are replicas of favorite horses engineered for a fee for individual owners.
Clones are technically allowed to compete in cutting and reining, but the whole point of cloning Smart Little Lena or the mare Royal Blue Boon is not to compete, but to breed. And breed. And breed, thus infusing the breed with the bloodlines of champions who would otherwise have limited offspring. The number of foals sired by Smart Little Lena could be infinite in the future....as could be the number of exact genetic replicas of Smart Little Lena himself standing at stud all over the world!
Cloning is wonderful technology and yesterday's decision gives one hope that when the AQHA allows clones to join the registry--which surely seems inevitable--it will do it with a plan that is responsible and fair.
The much bigger story here is that once the AQHA allows cloning, other breed registries will surely follow suit. The framework and perhaps welfare of our entire horse world depends on the AQHA to lead the way, if it decides to, in a way that will encourage other breeds to be responsible in their policies and ensure the safety and welfare of horses and the viability of breeds and breeding.
You know what the critics are asking: Are we ready for offshore breeding laboratories, unauthorized DNA capture, and lawsuits over the implications of mitochondrial DNA? Are we entering the age of Dr. Frankenhorse or a new era of genetic analysis and engineering that may be able to better all breeds?
Something I've been wondering: Couldn't the cloned AQHA halter horses be manipulated so they have feet of proportionate size to their bodies?
If I was to give advice to the AQHA, I'd suggest that for every dollar a clone costs, an equal amount be put into research to predict, analyze and remove threats of genetic disorders from the breed. The same energy that figured out how to select a coat color for a clone could certainly go a long way on the health front. HYPP and HERDA may be only the tip of an iceberg, and those who want to register and breed clones should be responsible for any headaches and heartaches their engineered horses introduce to the bloodlines of the horses the rest of us just want to own and ride.
Stay tuned for more news!
Update: After this post was published, a press release from AQHA confirmed that the vote had been postponed to the 2010 convention and that a task force had been formed to continue to investigate how cloning might impact the breed, and vice versa. Click here to read the official announcement from the AQHA.