Article for Info Holstein Newsletter
February/March, 1998

Cloning Daisy.  The Genetic Future?

J.P. Gibson
Centre for Genetic Improvement of Livestock
Animal & Poultry Science
University of Guelph

Dr. Steen Willadsen at Alta Genetics first achieved cloning of embryos in Canada over 10 years ago.  This technology has had limited impact however because the adult performance of an embryo is not known and only a limited number of clones can be made from a single embryo.  Dolly the sheep is a breakthrough because she is the first mammal to be cloned from an adult animal, something that many experts in reproduction have always thought would be impossible.  In contrast to embryo cloning, adult cloning can be done with an animal that has already proven its production potential and, theoretically at least, an almost infinite number of clones can be produced from a single adult animal.

Imagine a company marketing hundreds of thousands of embryo clones from a cow capable of producing 14,000 kg of milk per lactation.  At the right price, no farmer could afford not to have his herd made up of such cows.  The population of milking cows would consist of clones of a few dozen cows or less, much as crop production in most species is today dominated by a handful of successful clones.  Progeny testing would become a thing of the past along with most AI companies.  Semen would be required only to get clones pregnant to start another lactation.  Probably, beef semen would be used so that the calf would fetch a slightly higher price.  Dairy cattle breeding would be done in nucleus herds probably controlled by the same companies that control the cloning technology.  A few multinational-breeding companies would likely dominate dairy cattle breeding, much as poultry and pig breeding is controlled in most countries today.  Perhaps a few farmer-breeders would find a niche, but most would have no market.

Previous advances in reproduction technology have altered the playing field for dairy cattle breeding and production.  If cloning ever comes a cheap and routine technology, it will be a whole new ball game.