Cloned mule finishes third in Nevada race
LOS ANGELES, June 5 (Reuters) Two cloned mules have finished third and seventh in a Nevada mule race, disappointing the scientists who created them a day after each animal won its respective elimination heat.
But winning aside, scientists yesterday 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 (metre) 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 race.
''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 US 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 foetus 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 Jacklin.
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.
REUTERS SI RK0915