Cedar Park company clones endangered horse using DNA collected in 1980

Williamson County

CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — A Cedar Park-based company called Viagen Pets has successfully cloned its first endangered horse.

Viagen Pets offers animal cloning services to pet owners who wish to keep their furry friends in the family.

“We take the cells as they are. We culture them, grow them, freeze them and then store them,” said President of Viagen Pets, Blake Russell. “When we produce the clone it’s an identical twin. There is zero genetic modification occurring.”

The 4-year-old company typically clones house animals like cats and dogs, but recently its been breaking barriers.

A Przewalski’s horse, born on Aug. 6, was cloned from the DNA of a male Przewalski’s horse preserved by the San Diego zoo in 1980. Przewalski’s horses are considered “critically endangered” animals that are found in Mongolia, and said to be the last species of “truly wild horses.”

“You would have no idea he is a clone,” said Russell. “His appearance is very different from domestic horses.”

A Przewalski’s horse, born on Aug. 6, was cloned from the DNA of a male Przewalski’s horse preserved by the San Diego zoo in 1980 (Courtesy Viagen Pets)
A Przewalski’s horse, born on Aug. 6, was cloned from the DNA of a male Przewalski’s horse preserved by the San Diego zoo in 1980 (Courtesy Viagen Pets)

Przewalski’s horses were once extinct in the wild, but intensive breeding programs helped revive the species and reintroduce them into the grasslands of China and Mongolia.

When faced with the question: Why don’t you let nature do its course? Russell has this to say:

“We humans have been making breeding decisions for dogs, cats and horses for hundreds of years. If you look at all of the different breeds, humans have been the ones that have decided which traits they want to carry into future generations,” said Russell. “As time has evolved we’ve developed technology that lets us do that. We now have a very sophisticated technology like cloning, which allows us to further set desirable traits and produce their identical twin.”

The DNA used to clone the horse was collected 40 years ago in an effort to introduce key genetic diversity into the species that could benefit its survival. The zoo said the cloned Przewalski’s horse will eventually be transferred to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and integrated into a herd of other Przewalski’s horses for breeding.

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