A common question we are asked pertains to the performance of cloned animals, particularly livestock. So do cloned animals perform “the same” as their genetic donors?
Performance can be measured in several different ways. Do cloned females perform as well in reproductive programs as their genetic donors? Do cloned animals show as well as their genetic donors in competition?
Adult animals are the result of G x E – genetics multiplied by environment. In the case of a cloned animal, we can provide you with a genetic match, or identical twin – just born at a later place in time. What we cannot control, is the environment that genetic donor was raised in. And frankly, you may not even know all the environmental factors that went into developing the animal to adult status if you purchased them along the way. Here are some of things that are found in the environmental piece of the equation:
- What kind of recipient carried the animal to term?
- Was the birth difficult, or easy?
- How was the young animal fed?
- Was supplemental feeding, like creep feed, provided?
- Did the animal have an illness along the way?
- What time of year was the animal born?
- What age was the animal at weaning?
- Did she have a great recipient, or a poor recipient for lactation?
- Was the animal kept in a climate controlled show barn?
And the list goes on….
So here is what we can say. A cloned animal is a genetic match, so the blueprint is there for the animal to perform similarly to the genetic donor. We cannot mimic the environment the original genetic donor was raised in, but we can try to provide similar opportunities for success. The most controlled study of reproductive performance in cloned females was illustrated in a paper we wrote about a longitudinal study that has encompassed years of production from females in ET and IVF programs at Trans Ova Genetics. The results of that study, which included over 9000 embryos from genetic donors and their cloned counterparts, found that cloned animals perform “the same as” their genetic donors. Not a big surprise there. So what does that mean? If you have 5 cloned heifers to a genetic donor, will they all perform exactly as the genetic donor did? No, you will probably see 3 that perform very similarly to the genetic donor, 1 that performs better than the genetic donor and 1 that performs at a lower level than the genetic donor. But the average, or mean, of the 5 heifers may be very close to the production that was seen from the genetic donor. It does depend on environmental influences along the way, for example, was the genetic donor injured or did she have a C section that would reduce her performance? Did she acquire a disease? All of these things are environmental influences that will affect reproductive performance.
How about performance in the show ring? Because showing can be a crap shoot, it is almost impossible to suggest that a cloned animal will have the same success that the genetic donor had. Particularly if she won a major show. Will she have the same judge? Will she never have a bad day? Will she step on a stone on the way to the show ring? The genetics will be there for an outstanding animal phenotypically but the environment plays a very large part in the development of show animals. Have cloned animals performed as well as their genetic donors in the show ring? Yes they have. In fact, some cloned animals have outperformed their genetic donors in the show ring. But there are no guarantees that they will. I usually tell clients that I think a great show animal is about 25% genetics, 50% animal husbandry and nutrition, and 25% luck. We can give you the first 25% with a genetic match. You are responsible for the 50%. And the last 25% includes things that are out of your control.
For more information on genetic preservation and cloning your elite animal, contact Trans Ova Genetics.