Horse cloning is reworking polo in Argentina | EUROtoday

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An homage in Buenos Aires to the late polo champion Dolfina Cuartetera contains 4 of her clones on one group and the offspring of her clones on the opposite group. (Sebastián López Brach for The Washington Post)

BUENOS AIRES — Moments earlier than the world’s prime polo gamers ready to compete on the planet’s most necessary polo event, the celebs from two rival groups lined up on the sphere on horseback, mallets in hand, to pay homage to a champion.

Her identify was Dolfina Cuartetera.

She was a legend in Argentina’s polo Hall of Fame and winner of essentially the most prestigious awards for horses within the sport. She was as quick as she was agile, as explosive as she was docile, a mare with the stamina and energy to outrun and outlast another. As her proprietor, the world-renowned polo participant Adolfo Cambiaso, put it: “She was genius; she was Messi, Maradona.”

Cuartetera wasn’t on the Argentine polo championship this 12 months. She died in May, on the age of twenty-two. But the 4 representatives of the defending champion La Dolfina group — together with Cambiaso and his son — sat atop horses that appeared identical to her, with the identical silky chestnut coat and a splash of white on the nostril. The horses from the opposing group resembled her, too.

“Cuartetera was the mare that marked Adolfito’s career, the one that made us tremble and thrill in so many finals, the one whose runs and plays remain in everyone’s memory,” the announcer mentioned, “until he decided to multiply her.”

“Her clones, and the children of her clones, are present at this moment on the field, on both teams.”

This futuristic experiment had its origins in 2006, when Cambiaso’s beloved stallion Aiken Cura limped off the sphere, and it grew to become clear that the horse was in his last days. The star participant had an concept: He requested a veterinarian to avoid wasting of Aiken Cura’s pores and skin cells.

A decade had handed because the beginning of Dolly the sheep, the world’s first cloned mammal. Scientists in Italy had cloned the primary horse in 2003. And the industrial horse-cloning trade had arrived within the United States.

First cloned horse created in Italy

Cambiaso determined to take a chance. He had a Texas laboratory clone Aiken Cura, after which Cuartetera.

What started as an effort to immortalize these champions has now grow to be a large, multimillion-dollar trade. Argentina’s new president, Javier Milei, who has 4 clones of his late canine, just lately tapped a outstanding cloning knowledgeable to go the nation’s prime public science company.

The prospects of this experiment — and its long-term dangers — are but to be absolutely understood.

But the extent to which this polo-obsessed nation has already essentially remodeled the game and the character of horse breeding was evident on the sphere on the Argentine Open in Palermo in late November. As the gamers and the clones watched a video montage memorializing the late unique champion mare, her identify flashed throughout the display.

“Dolfina Cuartetera,” it learn. “3 February 2001 — ∞.”

Inside a horse-cloning lab

When Gabriel Vichera was 30, working in an Argentine lab that had simply cloned the primary horse in Latin America, he learn in the future that Cambiaso had auctioned a Cuartetera clone for $800,000. The younger scientist noticed a enterprise alternative and pitched it to buyers: an organization devoted to cloning horses for Argentine polo.

More than a decade later, Vichera mentioned his agency, Kheiron Biotech, clones about 100 horses every year — extra than simply about any firm on the planet — together with about 10 Cuarteteras. Next 12 months, the corporate expects to double its output. Although clones are nonetheless not permitted in horse racing, top-flight horses promote for upward of $1 million to the perfect polo golf equipment in Argentina, to endurance riders within the Middle East and to show-jumping equestrians around the globe.

On a current day in a dimly lit lab, as digital music blasted from audio system, Vichera peered right into a microscope and spun numerous nobs to manage two units of miniature tweezers. His rolled sleeves uncovered tattooed arms: a DNA chain and the phrases “updating nature,” subsequent to the molecular formulation of horses he cloned.

Now he was about to make one other one.

“Do you see something round on the left?” he requested. “That’s the egg.”

Making minuscule actions, he delicately positioned DNA materials from an present horse simply outdoors of the egg. Then a colleague used an electrical shock to push the fabric in, setting in movement a brand new life for an previous horse.

When Vichera first began cloning horses, about half of these born would endure a deformity or die. But when he began utilizing stem cells for his cloning process, defects and losses grew to become uncommon.

In some ways, it is smart that this South American nation would grow to be a frontrunner in horse cloning. In addition to its world-famous polo scene, it has permissive rules, a classy biotechnology sector and in depth farmland. It can be one of many world’s prime exporters of horsemeat. To make a clone embryo, scientists want eggs extracted from horse ovaries, and so they discovered a lot in Argentina’s slaughterhouses.

Early on, horse cloning was met with skepticism from many within the polo trade and outright horror from others who noticed it as a piece of science fiction.

Ethicists nonetheless argue that cloned horses create an uneven taking part in area in a sport that hinges closely on a horse’s efficiency. Competing with cloned horses removes an excessive amount of room for error, mentioned Francisco Javier López Frías, a sports activities ethicist at Pennsylvania State University. At what level, he mentioned, does a polo participant’s accomplishment grow to be “sort of the laboratory’s accomplishment?”

But over the previous decade, the complete polo trade has needed to get on board. Even one of many important detractors of cloning in Argentine polo — the Ellerstina membership — has its personal clones. “They were falling behind,” Vichera mentioned. “They saw that it worked.”

A go to to a horse-clone farm

The eggs from Vichera’s lab are finally delivered to a farm about an hour away, the place they’re implanted into surrogate mares.

The drive there cuts by means of Pilar, a Buenos Aires suburb that boasts greater than 100 polo grounds. A flip down an unmarked, rural filth street results in the Kheiron farm, house to tons of of pregnant or soon-to-be pregnant horses.

One of these horses, “Receptor 1569,” was in her 14th day of gestation, which means it was time for an ultrasound. There was Cuartetera, the latest clone of the polo legend, transferring round within the mare’s uterus. An embryo with champion potential.

At one other farm just some minutes away, cloned foals and fillies caught near moms that appeared nothing like them.

“It’s the nursery,” Vichera mentioned as he walked right into a paddock. There was a Cuartetera about 2 months previous, one other simply 3 weeks previous. A snapshot of various moments in a horse’s life span, at one farm, .

They are usually not all the identical horse. Each of the Cuarteteras have their small distinctions, a results of nature (genes that categorical themselves greater than others) and nurture (expertise in utero or within the early years of life). They have delicate variations in temperament. The white marks on their noses are all barely completely different, too.

But given the fitting care and coaching, the clones would nearly actually share traits that made the unique such a legend.

It used to take breeders tons of of births to supply a aggressive polo horse. Mares are solely fertile within the spring, which coincides with an important polo tournaments of the 12 months, making it tough for champions to each compete and breed. Instead, while you clone a horse, after which breed from these clones, Vichera mentioned, you’re “starting with genetics that you know are elite.”

“So you don’t have to have 100 births to find a good animal. You might only need 10,” Vichera mentioned. “You’re not just cloning your horse. You’re cloning your moneymaking factory.”

Using embryo transfers, a single horse can now give beginning to as many as 10 foals per 12 months, as a substitute of 1, mentioned Andres Gambini, a veterinarian and researcher on the University of Queensland in Australia, who was additionally a part of the group of Argentine scientists who cloned the primary horse in South America.

The sheer quantity of at the moment’s cloning operations raises the query: How many clones are too many?

“One of the things that you need for genetic progress is genetic variability,” Gambini mentioned. “When you are using cloning and you are staying with the same genetics over and over and over, then the genetic variability starts to decrease.”

Long time period, if left uncontrolled, this might result in inbreeding and even fertility issues in horses, Gambini mentioned.

Argentina imposes few guidelines on cloning, and polo affiliation leaders place no restrictions on what number of cloned horses can play in a recreation, leaving it as much as the businesses and the groups to outline their very own limits.

Vichera and his group have begun combining cloning with gene modifying. In mid-December, they efficiently implanted seven cloned, genetically modified embryos. If the pregnancies are profitable, the world’s first genetically designed horse will likely be born subsequent 12 months — a horse whose genes have been edited to be stronger and quicker, a form of polo superhorse.

If he will get the inexperienced mild from Argentine regulatory authorities, the scientist hopes to take this expertise to the subsequent degree — altering the intercourse of a clone, for breeding functions or maybe to make a good higher pony. If he have been to clone an elite stallion, Vichera wonders, might that very same horse be much more highly effective as a mare?

Fielding a group of clones

La Dolfina was trailing behind by a degree within the third interval of the ultimate match of the Argentine Open, the Dec. 3 match that may decide if the powerhouse group would defend the game’s most necessary championship title.

As the group within the packed stands went silent, Cambiaso’s 18-year-old son, Adolfo “Poroto” Cambiaso — on the again of Cuartetera clone B09 — despatched the ball flying up the sphere. His teammate, David Stirling, knocked it to an ideal opening.

The elder Cambiaso appeared to return out of nowhere, on the lightning-fast Cuartetera clone B06, the mare he has usually described as essentially the most just like the unique. Together, they made a run for it, racing previous all the opposite horses. The star participant struck the ball into the purpose to tie up the sport.

Great goalthat’s how you play polo,” mentioned an announcer.

After a razor-tight last, La Natividad clinched the championship. La Dolfina relinquished its title. But Cambiaso’s experiment noticed yet one more success.

A Cuartetera clone matched the feat of the unique. For a 3rd 12 months, the prize for the perfect horse of an important event in polo went to Cuartetera B06.