June 4, 2006

Cloned mule finishes third in Nevada race

By Nichola Groom

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two cloned mules finished third and
seventh in a Nevada mule race on Sunday, disappointing the
scientists who created them a day after each animal won its
respective elimination heat.

But winning aside, scientists said the strong performances
of the mules, named Idaho Gem and Idaho Star, will be key to
showing the public that the controversial technology produces
normal, healthy animals.

Idaho Gem, the world's first equine clone, took third place
and Idaho Star finished seventh in a 350-yard (meter) race
against six naturally bred three-year-old mules at the
Winnemucca Mule Race, Show & Draft Horse Challenge in
Winnemucca, Nevada, the scientists said.

The winning mule, Bar J.F. Hot Ticket, finished in 20.8
seconds, while Idaho Gem finished in 21.2 seconds and Idaho
Star finished in 22.2 seconds.

On Saturday, both cloned mules won their respective heats.
It was the first time cloned mules had entered a professional

"Today it's a disappointment, but we're not disheartened,"
said Dirk Vanderwall, a University of Idaho scientist said in a
telephone interview following the race. "We're still pleased
with their racing activity both yesterday and today."

Scientific evidence and a preliminary report by the U.S.
Food and Drug administration have offered few signs that cloned
products such as meat and milk are not safe, though public
opinion polls have shown that consumers are skeptical.

"This is an excellent venue for showcasing a couple of
cloned animals," said Ken White, a professor at Utah State
University who has worked with the cloned mules. "This is a
very athletic event, it takes a lot of energy and the animals
have to be on top of their game. When the public has an
opportunity to see this that's a very positive thing."

Idaho Gem, Idaho Star and a third mule who did not race,
Utah Pioneer, are clones of a fetus produced by the mother and
father of a champion race mule named Taz.

Idaho Gem was cloned in May 2003. Utah Pioneer and Idaho
Star were both born a few months later. Scientists at the
University of Idaho cloned the mules with the help of funding
from the president of the American Mule Racing Association, Don

Mules, which are sterile except in rare cases, are produced
when a mare is mated with a male donkey.

Also in 2003, the first cloned horse was created by Italian
scientists, though The Jockey Club, which keeps a registry of
thoroughbred horses, does not allow cloned thoroughbred horses
to race.

Both Idaho Gem and Idaho Star are expected to appear later
this summer on the mule racing circuit, which takes place
primarily in California, Vanderwall said. Utah Pioneer may
begin racing next year, according to Woods.