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World’s first cloned equine athletes training for races

It will be nature vs. nurture when the University of Idaho’s two mule clones Idaho Gem and Idaho Star take to the racetrack at Winnemucca, Nev., June 3 and 4 for the first leg of mule racing’s triple crown. The mules will become the first cloned athletes to participate in any sport. The University of Idaho’s three mule clones practiced their racing skills as yearlings in an Idaho pasture in 2004. Idaho Gem and Idaho Star have been in training for racing since 2005 with different trainers. Their racing debut June 3 and 4 at Winnemucca, Nev., will be a test of nature vs. nurture. After Winnemucca, the clones are expected to race at the San Joaquin Fair in Stockton, Calif., in late June, and may continue racing on the California fair circuit throughout the summer.

Idaho Gem, born May 4, 2003, is the world’s first clone born to the horse family. Idaho Star, born July 27, 2003, followed the birth of a horse clone in Italy and his triplet brother mule clone Utah Pioneer born June 9, 2003. The three were born as a result of Project Idaho, a six-year collaborative project involving University of Idaho animal and veterinary science Professors Gordon Woods and Dirk Vanderwall and Utah State University animal science Professor Dr. Ken White. The three mules were cloned from mule fetal skin cells so there is no adult animal with which to compare them. More important, however, is they will provide a unique test of whether genetics or environment, nature or nurture, is most important.

The mules are leased by two mule-racing businessmen, Don Jacklin of Post Falls, Idaho, and Roger Downey of Albuquerque, N.M. The businessmen hired two trainers, who have different training methods, to prepare the mules for the track. The mules’ genetic heritage is from a racing line. Their quarter horse dam, Mesmerizer, and Spanish jack donkey sire, Coalee McGee, were paired to produce several outstanding racing mules, including world champion Taz.

Science Daily
June 6, 2006

Original web page at Science Daily

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Scientists develop process for creating biocompatible fibers

Scientists at Virginia Tech have developed a single-step process for creating nonwoven fibrous mats from a small organic molecule – creating a new nanoscale material with potential applications where biocompatible materials are required, such as scaffolds for tissue growth and drug delivery. The research was presented in the Jan. 20 issue of Science, in the article, “Phospholipid Nonwoven Electrospun Membranes,” by Matthew G. McKee, a recent Ph.D. graduate in chemical engineering from Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, now at P&G, current chemistry students John M. Layman and Matthew P. Cashion, and chemistry professor Timothy E. Long, all at Virginia Tech’s College of Science. “Phospholipids, which are the main component of cell membranes in the human body or in an apple are exquisite in terms of their ability to self-organize,” said Long.

The researchers fabricated this natural compound into a sub micron fiber – 100 times smaller than a human hair. “It is the first demonstration that electrostatic spinning, or electrospinning, a polymer processing technique, can be used with a small molecule to produce a fiber. “Clothing fibers such as polyesters and nylons are composed of large molecules, macromolecules,” Long said. “Now, we are fabricating fibers from small molecules – ones with a low molecular weight.” Under the microscope, the resulting mat shows a porous nonwoven structure.

The researchers used a commercial product, lecithin, a natural mixture of phospholipids and neutral lipids. The materials will spontaneously organize into cylindrical or worm-like strands to form membranes. McKee studied this self-assembly and conducted rheological experiments to fundamentally understand the association of small molecules, then he determined that once phospholipids form an entangled network they can be treated similarly to higher weight molecules and electrospun. The size of the mats is limited only by the amount of material, such as lecithin. “This represents the synergy of electrospinning, the use of self-organizing molecules, and fundamental research to understand the behavior of such molecules,” Long said. “Matt (McKee) did a terrific job of bringing fundamental learning to a potentially new family of fabrics and membranes.”

Long said that the future opportunities are vast. “Our research group continues to fabricate molecules that self organize and can be electrospun. Potential applications include drug delivery, that is, a carrier and matrix to control the release of drugs.” Long’s research group is working with Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine researchers at Virginia Tech to develop a patch for drug delivery for horses. “We have not yet tested the specific biocompatibility (cytotoxicity) of our fibers, but we have not changed the chemical structure of the phospholipids.” The research is part of the Army Research Office Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), which brings together chemistry, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, chemical engineering, and materials science researchers to accelerate discoveries in nanostructured materials.

Virginia Tech News
February 14, 2006

Original web page at Virginia Tech News

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Stem cells in racehorses

In the equine world, tendon and ligament injuries are bad news indeed. Among the many prized race and performance animals who suffer from bowed tendons or similar maladies each year, just 20% or so make a full recovery, and then only after a long and costly rehabilitation. The suffering and expense these injuries incur has led frustrated horse owners to try a host of different treatments for these injuries over time, some more evidence-based than others, and all without great success. Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that some in the veterinary world would turn to a therapeutic approach that scientists say holds such great promise in humans: stem cells.

In the past few years at least two companies, one in Britain and the other in the United States, have begun offering treatments that they say improve healing of the injuries by means of autologous adult stem cell transplants. The firms make use of mesenchymal stem cells. Both companies claim that their treatments are effective in about 70% of cases. But the details of their approaches vary significantly, and the proof of the efficacy of such methods is so far less than robust, say experts.

Perhaps understandably, both companies say theirs is the best approach, but making a comparison is difficult. At this point, published data on the efficacy of either system is decidedly thin, says Lisa Fortier, an expert in equine stem cells and orthopedics from Cornell College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, NY. “In fact, the most interesting thing in all of this is that nobody has shown that any cells at all are needed to improve tendon healing,” Fortier says. “The only thing we do know is that growth factors do help.”

The difficulty for the California firm, she says, is that by separating the cells from their environment, the company is potentially removing any growth factor that might have been present. But on the other hand, the problem for their British counterparts is that little growth factor seems to be present in bone marrow aspirate, as Fortier and colleagues show in an abstract submitted to next year’s Orthopedic Research Society meeting. Fortier suggests caution when interpreting the companies’ results. “Even with no treatment, at least 50% of the horses will race one more time,” she says. A true proof of success would come after three or more races without repeat injury.

Scott Waterman, executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an industry-funded group trying to establish uniform rules for medication of race horses in the United States, says that the evidence he has heard so far about the efficacy of stem cell treatment is little more than anecdotal. Since the treatment isn’t aimed at performance enhancement, it is not likely to violate any rules, he says. “Actually, if this proves to be a useful therapy, it’s going to be a positive for racing,” says Waterman. “As long as it’s a complete heal and you’re not putting the horse out there in jeopardy.”

The Scientist
November 22, 2005

Original web page at The Scientist

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How a zebra lost its stripes: rapid evolution of the quagga

DNA from museum samples of extinct animals is providing unexpected information on the extent and effect of the Ice Age as well as the path of species evolution, according to a report by scientists from Yale University, the Smithsonian Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
The quagga, Equus quagga, a South African relative of horses and zebras, having a front half with zebra-like stripes and a back section like a horse with no marking, became extinct about 100 years ago. The pelt from a quagga museum specimen was the subject of tissue sampling that launched the field of ancient DNA analysis.

“Twenty years ago this exact species opened the field of ancient DNA studies on extinct animals,” said one of the authors, Gisella Caccone, senior research scientist in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Yale. “Now, thanks to technological advances in the field, we revisited the story and used a population level approach to this question by analyzing a larger fragment of DNA and multiple specimens.” In the past, the quagga has alternatively been described as a species and a subspecies of the Plains zebra. These researchers asked how and when the quagga diverged from all the remaining related horses, zebras, and asses. They compared the genetics, coat color and habitats of existing zebras with related extinct species.

The mitochondrial DNA markers from 13 museum specimens, including the only skeleton in museum collections, which is at Yale’s Peabody Museum of Natural History, showed that quagga likely diverged from Plains zebra about 120,000 to 290,000 years ago during the Ice Age. These results suggest that the quagga descended from a population of plains zebras that became isolated and the distinct quagga body type and coloring evolved rapidly. This study reveals that the Ice Age was important not just in Europe and North America, but also in Africa. “The rapid evolution of coat color in the quagga could be explained by disrupted gene flow because of geographical isolation, an adaptive response to a drier habitat, or a combination of both of the two forces,” said Caccone.

Science Daily
October 25, 2005

Original web page at Science Daily

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95% of thoroughbreds linked to one superstud

Virtually all 500,000 of the world’s thoroughbred racehorses are descended from 28 ancestors, born in the 18th and 19th centuries, according to a new genetic study. And up to 95% of male thoroughbreds can be traced back to just one stallion. Thoroughbred horses were developed in 18th century in the UK. English mares were bred with Arabian and other stallions to create horses with great stamina for distance racing. Today, thoroughbreds are the most valuable of breeds, representing a multi-billion dollar annual industry, worldwide.

To assess the genetic diversity of modern racing horses, geneticist Patrick Cunningham of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, compared 13 microsatellite DNA loci – repeating sequences of DNA which vary in length – in 211 thoroughbreds and 117 other Shetland, Egyptian and Turkish horses. He also examined studbooks dating back to 1791. He found the majority of the half million progeny alive today are descended from just 28 “founder” horses.

It was already known that just a handful of stallions (but many mares) were used to found the thoroughbred breed. But startlingly, the new research finds that, in 95% of modern racehorses, the Y-chromosome can be traced back to a single stallion – the Darley Arabian, born in 1700. Related work on sequencing the horse genome is also uncovering genes in thoroughbreds linked to speed and stamina. Screening for these traits could one day guide owners’ and breeders’ decisions when buying horses, which may sell for many millions of dollars. “We hope to produce sounder, faster and better-performing horses,” says Cunningham. He and colleague Emmeline Hill at University College Dublin is also using the horse genome to uncover genes that explain why one animal runs faster than another.

“Horses are flight animals naturally selected for speed and stamina in the wild,” explains Hill. “With domestic selection, speed was further augmented in the thoroughbred.” Thirty-five per cent of the difference in racing performance between horses can be explained by genetics alone, says Hill. She is cross-referencing up to 140 recently discovered human genes for fitness and performance in a bid to track down equine equivalents. These genes are involved in traits related to the cardio-respiratory system, muscle strength and metabolism, she says.

However, the analysis of thoroughbred genetics is also revealing the other side of the coin, notes Matthew Binns of the Royal Veterinary College in London, UK. Many negative traits are associated with inbreeding in the diminutive gene pool, he says. “The selections we’ve made for fantastic beasts have had some detrimental consequences.” One tenth of thoroughbreds suffer orthopaedic problems and fractures, 10% have low fertility, 5% have abnormally small hearts and the majority suffer bleeding in the lungs, says Binns. But as well as allowing breeders to select for performance-related genes, elucidating the horse genome may allow researchers to breed out negative traits, he says. “Now we have a good amount of the horse genome, there are interesting times ahead,” says Binns. “Over the next 10 years there will be some changes in this very traditional industry.”

New Scientist
September 27, 2005

Original web page at New Sientist

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Expert Surveillance Panel on Equine Influenza Vaccines, 2005

These recommendations were made following a meeting, which was held on 1 April 2005, of the Expert Surveillance Panel on Equine Influenza Vaccines and relate to the composition of vaccines for 2005 and beyond. Outbreaks of equine influenza in Argentina, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, the UK and the USA were reported during 2004. The outbreak that occurred during February and March in France was widespread and affected vaccinated as well as unvaccinated horses.

All influenza activity was associated with H3N8 viruses. There were no reports of serological or virological evidence of H7N7 (equine-1) subtype viruses circulating in the equine population. Nevertheless, diagnostic laboratories should continue serological and virological monitoring and, when using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for rapid diagnosis, should ensure that primers specific for H7N7 virus as well as H3N8 virus are used.

All viruses characterised antigenically and/or genetically from Europe and North America during 2004 belonged to the ‘American’ lineage. In haemagglutination inhibition (HI) testsusing post-infection ferret antisera, all viruses isolated in Europe were most closely related to the A/eq/Newmarket/5/2003 reference strain, whereas viruses isolated in South Africa and the USA were more closely related to A/eq/South Africa/4/2003. Antigenic differences between the two geographically separate groups of viruses were, however, not consistently observed. The HA1 sequences of American lineage viruses isolated since 2003 in America, Europe and South Africa all fall within a single phylogenetic sub-group, previously referred to as the ‘Florida’ lineage. The viruses isolated in America since 2003 (represented by A/eq/South Africa/4/2003 and A/eq/Ohio/2003) are characterised by two further amino acid changes in antigenic sites compared with the viruses isolated in Europe; these additional changes appear to contribute to greater antigenic drift from the A/eq/Newmarket/1/93-like viruses currently included in vaccines.

OIE
July 5, 2005

Original web page at OIE

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Vesicular stomatitis cases identified

Scientists have confirmed cases of vesicular stomatitis in horses in New Mexico and Arizona. The cases are the first to be identified in the United States in 2005. Vesicular stomatitis affects primarily cattle, swine, and horses, and has been found in many other animals. The disease can cause great concern if livestock are affected, because clinical signs mimic those of foot-and-mouth disease, which hasn’t been identified in the United States since 1929. When animals that are susceptible to FMD viruses develop signs, such as sores and blisters, laboratory tests must be performed to differentiate between the two diseases.

Foot-and-mouth disease has been found in cattle, swine, sheep, and other cloven-hoofed animals. Although horses are not susceptible to FMD viruses, the Department of Agriculture issues alerts when vesicular stomatitis is found in horses because of the possibility that the viruses that causes the disease will spread to other livestock, producing signs that can be confused with FMD.

On April 27, the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, confirmed finding the New Jersey strain of VS virus in two horses at one premises in Grant County, New Mexico. The affected premises had six horses and approximately 110 head of cattle. By May 10, the disease had been identified in five horses on three premises in New Mexico and three horses on three premises in Arizona. The premises were put under quarantine, and officials are working diligently to contain the outbreak. At press time, investigators had not identified the disease in FMD-virus-susceptible animals.

In May 2004, vesicular stomatitis was identified in Texas and soon discovered in New Mexico and Colorado. That tristate outbreak was the first in the United States since 1998. During the eight-month outbreak, a total of 294 premises were quarantined under state authority. On these quarantined premises, 405 equids, 63 bovids, and two llamas were infected with VS-NJ virus. By mid-January, the last premise deemed VS-NJ virus positive, located in Colorado, was released from quarantine, after satisfying a 30-day period in which no new disease occurred.

JAVMA
June 21, 2005

Original web page at JAVMA

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Contagious equine metritis in horses

A stallion, that was diagnosed as having Contagious Equine Metritis Organism (CEMO), has now been successfully treated. Horses that were ‘at risk’ or that had come into contact with the stallion have also been traced and tested. Those tests were negative. Defra has now lifted restrictions on the Somerset premises where the stallion is kept, and the investigation has been concluded.

CEMO is a treatable venereal disease of horses, which poses no risks to human health. This case was detected in March this year through routine testing. Previous cases of CEMO have occurred in a stallion and a mare in 2002, and a mare in 2003. The Horserace Betting Levy Board’s Code of Practice is aimed at preventing and controlling CEMO. Defra advises those intending to use horses for breeding to follow the guidelines for disease prevention that are contained in the code.

CEM was first described as a disease in 1978. It is not prevalent worldwide, and outbreaks are sporadic. Since 1980 there have been no reported cases except in Europe and Japan. Numbers of reported cases annually are generally in single figures. The usual measures of control are surveillance, monitoring, screening and movement controls. The disease in the UK is notifiable. There are no EU rules on the control of CEMO. However some third countries require disease free status for CEMO for trade purposes. There were 14 UK cases in 1996, two in 1997, 2 cases in 2002, 1 case in 2003. After the last outbreak, the UK had regained disease free status.

The severity of disease caused by the CEMO organism varies. The main outward clinical sign in a mare is a mild to heavy discharge from the vulva, resulting from an inflammation of the uterus (endometritis). Occasionally mares will show no clinical signs. Whilst infected most mares will fail to conceive. There have been cases of abortion associated with CEMO. The incubation period is 2-12 days and the period of clinical infection lasts on average 2 weeks. Infected stallions do not usually show clinical signs of infection, but merely harbour the organism on their external genitalia.

E-mail address Boglet
June 7, 2005

Original web page at WVA

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West Nile virus treatment

A University of Queensland researcher has developed the world’s first specific immunotherapy product using monoclonal antibodies for the potentially lethal West Nile virus, which causes seasonal epidemics around the globe. The mosquito-borne virus affects the central nervous systems of humans, horses and birds in North America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.Dr Roy Hall, from UQ’s School of Molecular and Microbial Sciences, has developed an immunotherapy treatment for the disease based on a monoclonal antibody that binds to the benign Australian Kunjin virus. The treatment completely neutralised the West Nile virus and provided infected mice protection against the onset of symptoms, according to Dr Hall. “We also believe it may be possible to reverse the symptoms of West Nile in animals such as horses, and we’re about to begin trials to test this theory, administering the treatment to animals in various stages of infection,” Dr Hall said.

Recognising the potential of the treatment, international animal health product manufacturer, Fort Dodge Animal Health, has licensed Dr Hall’s treatment via UQ’s commercial arm, UniQuest Pty Ltd.Fort Dodge will test the treatment’s effectiveness in horses and develop it for commercial sale to the equine industry, according to UniQuest Managing Director, David Henderson. “Horses are a large group affected by West Nile virus in the U.S., and Dr Hall’s treatment will complement Fort Dodge Animal Health’s equine vaccine that protects against the disease,” Mr Henderson said.

In addition, Dr Hall is developing a West Nile vaccine for humans with UQ’s Associate Professor Alex Khromykh, which is undergoing preclinical trials. A West Nile diagnostic reagent also developed by Dr Hall has been licensed for sale in the U.S. and will be used to track the spread of the disease in animals and birds in North America. Dr Hall said it was very satisfying to see his research being used in North America, where West Nile virus was a serious problem. “Unfortunately, it is only a matter of time before West Nile virus hits Australian shores but hopefully my research will help reduce the impact of the disease.”

Source: Research Australia

Bio.com
May 24, 2005

Original web page at Bio.com

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Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus infection of spiny rats

Enzootic strains of Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus (VEEV) circulate in forested habitats of Mexico, Central, and South America, and spiny rats (Proechimys spp.) are believed to be the principal reservoir hosts in several foci. To better understand the host-pathogen interactions and resistance to disease characteristic of many reservoir hosts, the scientists performed experimental infections of F1 progeny from Proechimys chrysaeolus collected at a Colombian enzootic VEEV focus using sympatric and allopatric virus strains. All animals became viremic with a mean peak titer of 3.3 log10 PFU/mL, and all seroconverted with antibody titers from 1:20 to 1:640, which persisted up to 15 months. No signs of disease were observed, including after intracerebral injections. The lack of detectable disease and limited histopathologic lesions in these animals contrast dramatically with the severe disease and histopathologic findings observed in other laboratory rodents and humans, and support their role as reservoir hosts with a long-term coevolutionary relationship to VEEV.

Venezuelan equine encephalitis (VEE) is an emerging disease that affected humans and equines in many parts of the Americas throughout the 20th century. The etiologic agent is VEE virus (VEEV), a positive-sense RNA virus in the family Togaviridae and genus Alphavirus. The first strain of VEEV was isolated and characterized serologically in 1938. Numerous VEEV strains and closely related alphaviruses have since been classified into 2 epidemiologic groups: enzootic and epizootic strains.
Enzootic strains (subtypes I, varieties D-F, and subtypes II-VI) are regularly isolated in lowland tropical forests in Florida, Mexico, and Central and South America, where they circulate between Culex (Melanoconion) spp. mosquito vectors and small rodents; these strains are generally avirulent for and incapable of amplification in equines. In contrast, epizootic VEEV strains (subtype I, varieties A-B and C), which are responsible for all major outbreaks in humans and equines, use several mosquito vectors and equines, which are exploited as highly efficient amplification hosts. Epizootic viruses cause debilitating disease with high fatality rates in equines. Humans are tangential, spillover hosts in both epidemic and enzootic VEEV cycles and are affected by most strains. A severe febrile illness that can occasionally be life-threatening develops; although human death occurs in <1% of infections with enzootic and epizootic VEEV strains, neurologic sequelae occur in survivors, particularly children. Emerging Infectious Diseases
May 10, 2005

Original web page at Emerging Infectious Diseases

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First clone of champion racehorse revealed

The cloned foal was the only live birth from 34 implanted embryos. The first ever clone of a champion racehorse was unveiled on Thursday at a press conference in Italy. The foal was cloned from a skin cell of Pieraz, a multiple world champion in equine endurance races of up to 50 kilometres. Unlike conventional horseracing, which bans the use of non-natural methods of breeding, including cloning, endurance racing is among the half dozen or so equine sports which would allow cloned competitors. Others include dressage, showjumping, three-day-eventing, polo and carriage horse racing.

It is the first time an elite racehorse has been cloned, and comes two years after the appearance of Prometea, the first and only other cloned horse. “Prometea was just a scientific experiment and, scientifically, there’s not much new about the new clone,” says Cesare Galli, who produced both horses at the University of Bologna in Cremona, Italy. “But from an industry viewpoint, the new horse is the real thing.”

Like most endurance racehorses, Pieraz was castrated young and so cannot breed. The idea of cloning him was to “recreate his testicles” for breeding purposes, says Eric Palmer of Cryozootech, a company based in Paris, France, which supported Galli’s latest cloning work. “The plan is to make this horse a stallion,” says Palmer, and the clone will be mature enough to breed within two years. But although the new clone is Pieraz’s genetic twin, he says there is no guarantee that it will perform as well as the champion racehorse. Environmental factors could be crucial.

The clone is the first of many planned by Cryozootech. “We have samples of 33 horses in our genetic bank,” says Palmer. They include samples from ET, the world’s top showjumping horse, and from Rusty, a top dressage horse. Galli created Prometea and the latest clone using the same technique – implanting skin cells into eggs emptied of their own genetic material. Galli had improved upon his success rate, with 15% of the embryos created suitable for transplant this time, compared to just 3% with Prometea. But the foal was the only live birth from the 34 embryos Galli implanted into 12 foster mothers, three of which became pregnant. Galli says the foal is healthy: “It was born in February and has been very well.”

A team in the UK, which recently received government approval to clone horses for scientific purposes, welcomed the Italian breakthrough but is frustrated that the British government will not allow cloning for commercial purposes. William Allen, head of the team at the Equine Research Unit in Newmarket, UK, accuses the government of capitulating to animal welfare groups. Animal Aid, a British-based animal welfare lobby group, opposes cloning of horses on the grounds that cloned embryos are often deformed or grossly over-sized, and so should not be created for what they argue is a leisure activity. Allen hopes that the government will change its mind but in the meantime is planning two non-commercial research experiments.

In one, he hopes to take DNA from a mare and then implant the cloned embryo into the same horse. In another, he plans to create and implant donkey-horse hybrid embryos to see how much DNA from the egg ends up in the clone. This could be important if it disrupts the transplanted nuclear DNA and thus the traits of an elite horse.

New Scientist
April 26, 2005

Original web page at New Scientist