Clone company bullish in Asian market

By Melissa Trudinger
Monday, 18 February, 2002

Two cloned calves of a top breeding bull are being sold in Asia by Australian breeder RAB for almost $400,000 each.

The two clones, Donor Alpha and Donor Beta, are copies of a top stud Holstein bull named Donor. They were cloned by Melbourne-based Clone International in collaboration with RAB, the largest privately owned artificial breeding organisation in Australia.

Clone International is a joint venture between biotechnology company Clone Australia and New Zealand organisation AgResearch. In August 2001 the two companies made a deal with Geron Corp for the exclusive license in Australia and NZ of nuclear transfer technology ? the Dolly cloning method.

Dr Richard Fry, managing director at Clone International, said that out of 11 recipients implanted with cloned embryos, two calves were born. He said that in NZ, AgResearch had produced 80 cloned calves and increased the efficiency of nuclear transfer cloning techniques from approximately 4-15 per cen t.

Bull breeding is big bucks ? a top breeding bull like Donor produces 130,000 units of semen each year, worth up to $2 million.

Fry said that cloning top breeding bulls was one way to expand into the export market. The cloned bulls can either be kept in Australia for semen production purposes in the Australian market, or exported. Clone International planned to produce between six and 10 clones each of the top breeding bulls in Australia, in collaboration with RAB, he said.

Clone International and RAB also hope to set up a scheme for preserving the genetic blueprints of elite animals like Donor in the form of cloned embryos. The stored embryos can then be used to restore the line if injury or disease compromises the breeding capacity of the animal.

Donor Alpha and Donor Beta are not the first bulls to be cloned using nuclear transfer techniques, but they are the first to be cloned for commercial purposes. Several groups worldwide ? including a consortium between Genetics Australia, the Dairy Research and Development Corporation, the Victorian Institute for Animal Science and the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development ? have cloned bulls, but the Clone International clones are the first to be cloned under a commercial license. Both Clone International and the Genetics Australia consortium have focussed on cloning current elite breeding stock.

Clone International also holds a manufacturing license for exclusive production of clones of dairy and beef cattle, sheep and horses in China using the nuclear transfer technique, as well as the production and export of cloned cattle and sheep embryos for production of live offspring that can be used both in artificial insemination and natural breeding programs.

The company is focussing on cattle, as the technology is too expensive for practical application in sheep. Research into cloning horses is also in the early stages.

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