How do you feel about cloning animals? Have you ever hoped you could make an exact copy of your furry loved one?
A woman named Kit Knotts did just that. When her prized dressage horse Marc started getting older, she asked Dr. Katrin Hinrichs of Texas A&M University to make a new horse, genetically identical to Marc. Today, Kit is the proud owner of Mystic, a 3 month old cloned foal.
Hear Kit and Dr. Hinrich's story straight from the horses' mouth (sorry, I had to!) by watching the video above. And don't forget to leave a comment at the bottom of the page. Come on, talk nerdy to me!
CARA SANTA MARIA: Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria here. How do you feel about cloning animals? Have you ever hoped you could make an exact copy of your furry loved one? Well, Kit Knotts did just that. When her prized dressage horse Marc started getting older, she asked Texas A&M Professor of Veterinary Medicine Dr. Katrin Hinrichs to make a new horse, genetically identical to Marc. Today, based in Florida, Kit's the proud owner of Mystic, a 3 month old foal. Marc has since passed away, and Kit's grateful she made the decision to clone him while she still could.
KIT KNOTTS: And it's been an amazing roller coaster, up down, happy, tragic experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
KATRIN HINRICHS: Kit contacted us to just freeze, culture and freeze, cells from her horse for possible future cloning but she was so interested in the work we were doing she decided to go ahead and fund research in our lab.
CSM: So how exactly do you go about cloning a horse?
KH: It is a really hard thing to do. I think it’s simple in that the steps are very straightforward: get the cell, get the egg, take the chromosomes, out of the egg, put the cell into the egg. But right now there are only four laboratories in the entire world that have ever announced that they’ve produced a cloned foal.
CSM: And in fact, Mystic wasn't the first attempt at cloning Marc. A previous clone, named Mouse, was born, and Kit bonded with him intensely before he died at three months, from intestinal complications apparently unrelated to the cloning process.
KK: Making the decision to keep trying to have these cloned foals was a really hard one. But I decided if I was gonna do it, then I would do it 100 percent. We never thought he would make it but he did and that’s Mystic and he’s now almost four months old. He’s fabulous, he’s the best boy that ever lived.
CSM: If you think about it--I mean, really think about it--that's incredible. Dr. Hinrichs managed to take a small sample of cells from underneath Marc's skin and remove all of his DNA from them. This DNA contained the instructions to build a brand new horse, with Marc's exact same genetic material. Apparently the tricky part was getting the immature eggs, or oocytes, that the DNA would eventually live inside. These oocytes were harvested from healthy mares, matured in the lab, and then their own DNA was carefully removed, to make room for Marc's DNA. With a bit of hormonal manipulation, the oocytes began to grow an embryo inside. Then they were put into the womb of another mare, to grow and mature until birth.
KH: Cloning seems like sort of science fiction, but it’s actually a fairly simple process, and the reason it works is because of the oocyte. The oocyte does the job. We as scientists don’t really do the job. The oocyte is the one that’s doing the miraculous thing here, it is an amazing, amazing cell.
CSM: So, cloned animals have the same DNA, but they live completely different lives. Does that mean Kit has replaced Marc with an exact replica in Mystic?
KH: The very best simile that you can use is an identical twin. Well, how similar are identical twins? Well, you can say, well, they look almost exactly alike. If one’s got blonde hair, the other one’s gonna have blonde hair, if one’s got blue eyes, the other one’s gonna have blue eyes. But then you get into things that just kind of happen to you as you live, in utero, on the ground, and say well if one twin lost his front tooth today does that mean the other twin’s going to lose his front tooth today? Well, nobody would expect that. So they’re identical, but they’re not identical, that’s the thing.
CSM: Oh, and in case you're wondering (like I was) why Marc and Mystic are two totally different colors--I mean, they're supposed to be identical, after all! It's because the Lipizzan breed greys as it ages. When Mystic gets a little older, he too, will turn white. But there's one thing Kit says is exactly the same between Marc and his clones.
KK: If you have ever seen Marc’s joints you would say, ‘how could a horse have joints like that?’ They were so huge. Same with Mouse. Same with Mystic. They’re gorgeous. They last forever.
CSM: So, I wondered, after all this, just how do Dr. Hinrichs and Kit feel about animal cloning?
KK: One thing I would recommend is for anyone with a special animal and this can be a dog, cat, horse--whatever, if the animal is special, either personally or from a performance point of view or a genetics/breeding point of view, bank their genes now. I would really have regretted if I hadn’t done Marc while he was still alive.
KH: It costs so much--sort of upwards of $150,000--that you would only do it if you really feel that the genetics of the horse you’re cloning are very, very important to preserve.
CSM: What do you think about cloning horses, or animals in general? Is it ethical? Would you want to clone your own furry friends? Let me know on Twitter, Facebook, or leave a comment right here on The Huffington Post. Come on, talk nerdy to me!