INSIDE Chico State
0 March 29, 2001
Volume 31 Number 13
  A publication for the faculty, staff, administrators, and friends of California State University, Chico
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Bio Tech Milestone at University Farm

Martie, one of three cloned calves born on March 9th, gambols near her mother.
Martie, one of three cloned calves born on March 9th, gambols near her mother.

Dave Daley and Andree Earley show off Natalie, Emily, and Martie. Since this picture was taken, Natalie and Emily died of infection.
Dave Daley and Andree Earley show off Natalie, Emily, and Martie. Since this picture was taken, Natalie and Emily died of infection.

(Photos Courtesy Cindy Daley)

Cloning project produces groundbreaking biotechnological knowledge despite death of two calves

Three cloned Charolais calves, Martie, Natalie, and Emily, were born on March 9 as part of a research project through the College of Agriculture. They were met with the excitement and trepidation of a birth long anticipated and monitored at every step. In spite of appearing healthy for the first 11 days of their lives, on day 12, Natalie died, and three days later Emily died.

In the relatively new area of animal cloning research, these results are not unexpected. In an article in the Science and Ideas Section of U.S. News and World Report, March 19, 2001, writer Nell Boyce says: "Several years of animal cloning work had taught them [veterinary researchers] that most cloned animals never even make it to birth, and the rare ones that do all too frequently have problems ranging from physical deformities to life-threatening medical conditions."

The calves are part of a larger national research project to determine the livability of cloned calves. The project is directed by Professor Cindy Daley, Agriculture, and funded with a $58,000 grant from the state Agricultural Research Initiative (ARI) with matching grants from a biotech firm, Cyagra LLC, a division of Advanced Cell Technology in Manhattan, Kansas, and Byrd Cattle Company from Red Bluff.

The calves were cloned at Cyagra using DNA from cows supplied by Byrd Cattle Company. Bovine cloning technology is very new. Dolly the cloned sheep was born in 1997, and the first cloned calf was born in 1998. Although there are living cloned calves in projects in Japan and at Infigen in Madison, Wisconsin, there have been only 10 live births in the Cyagra project. It is significant that three of those live births were part of the College of Agriculture project.

Two sets of cloned embryos from Cyagra were transferred to 14 recipients on successive days. The first seven pairs, derived from Black Angus, were implanted into seven Hereford mothers using traditional embryo implant techniques. No pregnancies resulted. The second set was derived from Charoloais and transplanted into seven Hereford mothers. Two pregnancies went to term, and one of the pregnancies resulted in twins.

"The second set of embryos was a better preparation than the first; this is part of the research. How each differs is Cyagra LLC's secret, for the time being," said Daley.

The College of Agriculture is funded to determine feasibility and application of the 5-year-old cloning technology to the industry. "Our part of the project is to collect field data, pregnancy rates, recipient progress, number of live/normal calves, and livability of the calves," said Daley.

"Given the early appearance of health, the loss of the twins was unexpected," reported Daley. The symptoms included slight listlessness followed by sudden death. Daley said that things looked normal until Wednesday morning when she went to check and feed the animals. "After the death of the first calf, our sensitivity was heightened, so the other two were watched closely," said Daley. "However, that did not prevent the death of the second twin."

Information from the pathologist indicated that the first twin had acute Clostridial perfringens, a normal inhabitant of the gastro-intestinal tract that, if allowed to overgrow, can cause rapid death, said Daley. Normally, the immune system is able to keep this organism in check. More specific information from the results of thorough testing will not be available for several days.

"At this point," said Daley, "we believe that the calves were unable to mount a suitable defense against this particular disease, possibly due to an immune deficiency that is unique to these twins and/or clones in general, or that the calves received a poor immune transfer of maternal antibodies. Since these calves shared the same mother, either explanation is feasible. We are only speculating."

Daley said that it is too early to compare the results of the College of Agriculture study to the other studies. The data collected here will be compiled with data collected nationally to determine overall livability. One possible use of the data, suggested Daley, would be to determine if a future study of immune competence is warranted.

The College of Agriculture project has already made considerable contributions to the body of knowledge of bovine cloning, suggested Daley. "Our project demonstrated the live delivery of cloned calves through the process of nuclear transfer and has also demonstrated where there are weaknesses in the process that need to be addressed. Perhaps this data will lead to better strategies for handling clone calf pregnancies prior to delivery that will enhance the survival rates; there may be special needs not yet identified. Until these studies are conducted, we cannot make advancement toward improved cloning technologies."

Kathleen McPartland
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