Australian Attempt to Modernize Thoroughbred Breeding Comes to an End

Four years ago, former Australian bookmaker Bruce McHugh started a crusade to attempt to end the Thoroughbred industry's ban on the use of artificial insemination as an accepted breeding technique. With Thoroughbreds, in order to be eligible for registration, a horse must have been produced using live-cover techniques. Among other matters, McHugh - and many others involved in the field of equine reproduction - argued that the restriction was archaic and not based upon sound scientific reasoning. It had been introduced in Australia in 1947 to avoid incorrect - either intentional or accidental - replication of bloodlines owing to the misuse of collected semen. With the advent of DNA testing, McHugh pointed out that it was easy to determine if the sire was indeed the sire of record. Most other breeds and registries that utilize AI require DNA testing, so parentage verification protocols are well-proven and clearly definitive.

As we have previously reported, the case which was heard in 2011 was finally adjudicated upon in December of 2012, at which time the Courts found for the Defendants, concluding that McHugh's arguments carried no - or insufficient - merit. Undaunted, McHugh appealed, but was again shot down with a judgement against him handed down in April of 2014. Not yet prepared to "roll over and play dead", McHugh sought special leave to appeal from Australia's High Court, but yesterday was denied that opportunity by the Court.

While McHugh acknowledges that his own attempts are at an end - after spending millions of dollars - he also observes that the subject is unlikely to die. It is an emotive subject, but one which carries a pretty clear scientific base in favour of AI, and would potentially prevent the need for "shuttle stallions" being transported from Northern Hemisphere to Southern and back for a year-round breeding season, as well as preventing the need for stallions to breed multiple mares day after day, both of which can be decidedly stressful on the animal.

The aspect of DNA-testing is clear cut as far as parentage verification is concerned, but even that issue may be more complicated for all breeds and registries if the subject of mitochondrial DNA-testing is considered. MtDNA looks solely at DNA inherited from the dam - which is only passed through the direct female line - and has been used recently to show that the likelihood of the famous 19th Century Thoroughbred racehorse Ben d'Or was in fact most likely not that horse, but in fact one called Tadcaster. While this supposed error was allegedly as a result of accidental foal-swapping, investigation of all MtDNA is quite likely to result in other errors being identified - and remember this was at a time when live cover was the only option - so one has to wonder at the continued arguments being offered. There is no doubt that "round two" with a different set of protagonists will occur, the only question being when.


New "Cloning" Research with an Interesting Twist Released

Nuclear vs mtDNA TransmissionUp until now, in most cases there has been a way to differentiate - using DNA profiling - between a donor animal and a clone of that animal. The differentiation can be made by looking at the Mitochondrial DNA of the animal in question. The important things to remember are that there are two forms of DNA to consider - Nuclear DNA and Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) - and that in respect to the latter, it can only be passed down to the next generation by the female. To the left are a pair of slides ("click" to enlarge) we used to demonstrate that at the lecture we gave at the American Hanoverian Society's AGM a few months ago. It's really very simple, but often causes confusion. The red lines in the diagram are the mtDNA being transmitted - the mares are to the right in the "pedigree" - while the blue lines are the Nuclear DNA. As you can see, both sire and dam transmit nuclear DNA, but only the dam can transmit the mtDNA. If the offspring to which the mtDNA is transmitted is male, then the transmission stops there.

So with cloning (the type of which that is used for the equine is technically called "Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer") an oocyte - any suitable oocyte - is taken and "enucleated", or has the nuclear DNA removed. Without getting too technical, the mtDNA from the oocyte remains, but doesn't (as far as we know) provide any characteristics related to the next generation, but is primarily associated with energy for the whole cell division (or fertilisation) process. The donor DNA is then placed within that enucleated oocyte and undergoes a process to convince the cell that it's just been fertilised. Cell division starts and in due course we hope, along comes a (DNA) replica of the DNA donor - except, in most cases, for the mtDNA. Because the mtDNA came from a completely different source (the oocyte that was used) than did the original donor's mtDNA (which would have come from his Dam's oocyte), if the clone's mtDNA is looked at, then it will be different from the DNA donor's mtDNA, so the differentiation can be made.

Where it gets tricky is if the "new" clone is male. If that stallion goes on to breed, there is no way to differentiate between an offspring of the original DNA donor, and an offspring of the clone, because the mtDNA would - in that offspring - have come from its Dam, not the (clone) Sire. This is the reason why we strongly encourage breed registries to record clones in some way so that there is not a "ringer" throw into the mix at some point - but that's another discussion for a different day...

So on to the twist...

A paper that is due to be published in the Theriogenology Journal (Choi Y., Ritthaler J., Hinrichs K. Production of a mitochondrial-DNA identical cloned foal using oocytes recovered from immature follicles of selected mares, Theriogenology, Article in press May 2014) reports on work that has been done where the oocytes that were used for the cloning process were taken from close female maternal line relatives - in one instance a cousin (a female offspring of a female sibling of the DNA donor's dam) and in another instance, a second cousin (a female offspring of a female offspring of a female sibling of the DNA donor's dam). As a consequence, the resulting foal (ultimately there was only one) had identical DNA - both nuclear and mtDNA - to the original DNA donor.

This has several interesting implications. Obviously the first is that it is now possible to replicate an animal that - at this time - we cannot differentiate genetically from the original; the second is that it opens the door to further research as to what effect - if any - the mtDNA truly does have on phenotype and performance in the equine.

AQHA Required to Register Clones

In a ruling handed down today, U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson required the AQHA to commence registering clones of registered American Quarter Horses and their offspring 30 days from the time the injunction is signed, which could occur this week. Plaintiffs Jason Abrahams and Gregg Veneklasen are delighted with the result which will allow them to register their 20 clones as well as future animals, however the AQHA is still resisting the decision and still intends to "continue to take any and all necessary legal action in seeking to have the verdict of the jury and any judgment entered by the Court in favor of plaintiffs reversed".

AQHA Announces Plans to Appeal

In an announcement that will probably surprise few, AQHA have indicated their intent to appeal the ruling made two days ago that found the organization to be in contravention of antitrust ("restriction of trade") laws by not allowing the registration of clones.

While the cloning argument tends to raise hackles on both sides of the discussion, the fact is that cloning of equines is here whether one approves of it or not. This means that an organization that registers horses - any organization - would be well-advised to encompass a regulation that will protect its membership from potential fraudulent use of clones. A rule preventing registering clones unfortunately does not do that. If a stallion is cloned, there is currently no way to differentiate between a foal sired by the DNA donor stallion or the clone, so fraudulent use of semen could result in an organization unknowingly registering offspring of clones in their main stud book.

It has long been our view (Equine-Reproduction.com's) that registries as a whole - not just AQHA - should be prepared to register clones with the same registration number as the donor animal, plus a suffix (e.g. 123456-a, 123456-b etc.), while at the same time microchipping all the animals involved (donor and clone[s]). Any work involving a recordable performance (competition, breeding etc.) would then require reading of the microchip to confirm identity. This will allow tracking of the clones and their genetic input, which is good from all perspectives of the argument - whether you agree with cloning or not.

AQHA Found to be Violating Texas State and Federal Antitrust Laws

After three days of deliberation, the five-woman, seven-man jury determined that the AQHA's Stud Book and Registration Committee and top AQHA officials violated two sections of the Sherman Antitrust Act ("restraint of trade") and Texas statutes by barring the plaintiffs' horses from its registry.

In 2012, Amarillo veterinarian Gregg Veneklasen had worked on developing rules for the AQHA to allow the registration of offspring of clones. It had been thought that the proposed rule changes would be acceptable until the last moment when they were rejected. Subsequently he and rancher Jason Abraham of Canadian, TX sued the 280,000-member organization, seeking to overturn the association's Rule 227a, which has barred cloned horses from the AQHA registry since 2004. While they have proven successful in their suit, it remains to be seen if AQHA will appeal the decision, or if further legal action will be required to oblige AQHA to actually implement a rule change. A similar situation occurred in 2000 when breeder Kay Floyd successfully sued the AQHA under the same statutes regarding limitation of registration of foals produced by embryo transfer. In that situation, although Floyd was successful, acceptance of registration of the foals was not immediately implicated and further legal work was required to enforce the results of the initial case.

Another "Equine Reproduction Notable" Leaves Us

Dr. James L. VossDr. James Voss, an icon of equine reproduction research and a pioneer in the modern reproductive research field died on Friday. Dr. Voss retired in 2001 as Dean of Colorado State University's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, a position he held for 15 years although his career at the University spanned 43 years having commenced in 1958. In 1977 Dr. Voss was instrumental in the ground-breaking for CSU's new facility that would ultimately bear his name - the James L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital. This facility has flourished over the years to become a leader in the field of equine reproductive research and treatment in addition to producing many notable Veterinarians.

In the 1990s, Dr. Voss became a "household name" in equine reproduction when he co-edited (with Dr. Angus McKinnon) what at that time became the definitive text book in the field: "Equine Reproduction" - commonly referred to by most users not by the title but as "McKinnon and Voss". Dr. Voss was a mentor to many and respected by many, many more for his abilities, knowledge and humour. Dr. Voss is survived by his wife, Kay, of Fort Collins; sons, Ed and Bill; and daughter, Laura.

A memorial service is set for 11am, Tuesday, July 16, at the Hilton Fort Collins, 425 W. Prospect Road. In lieu of flowers, the Voss family requests donations to the Colorado State University Equine Reproduction Laboratory. To donate, click here and select "Equine Reproduction Laboratory (ERL)"; or send a check payable to "CSU Equine Reproduction Laboratory" to CVMBS Dean's Office, 1601 Campus Delivery, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1601, Attn: Dr. Voss - ERL.

Noted Equine Reproduction Researcher Dr. Michelle LeBlanc Dies

It is with the deepest regret that we announce the death of noted researcher and veterinarian, Dr. Michelle LeBlanc. Dr. LeBlanc was noted for her interest and research into mare infertility, late pregnancy problems - with a particular interest in placentitis - and embryo transfer. With much of her research being used on a daily basis today by equine reproductive veterinarians world-wide, Dr. LeBlanc performed and published valuable research into the use and effect of oxytocin to assist pregnancy establishment and maintenance in mares with uterine clearance issues.

Dr. LeBlanc was for many years associated with the University of Florida, having been their Director of the Equine Research Program. More recently, Dr. LeBlanc had been working at Rood & Riddle Veterinary Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, who last month renamed their equine reproduction center the "LeBlanc Reproduction Center". Among many honours received by Dr. LeBlanc, she was named 2000 Theriogenologist of the Year and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Equine Veterinary Association in 2011.

Dr. LeBlanc, who died on Saturday of ovarian cancer, which she had been battling for several years, was 58. A fund has been established by the Theriogenology Foundation to honour LeBlanc's legacy. It is the organizers hope that the fund will become large enough to establish an endowment fund in order to honour her in perpetuity. Donations in LeBlanc's memory or honour can be sent to The Theriogenology Foundation, P.O. Box 3007, Montgomery, AL 36109, USA.

Are Clones Fertile? Well Yes They Are!

Clone x Clone = Clone!Clone x Clone = Clone!Cloning history has been made with the birth of a foal in Texas. The as yet un-named filly shown at left was born April 10th and is by a clone of a World Champion Quarter Horse gelding "Go Wild" out of a clone of a 3 time World Champion Quarter Horse mare, "Spring Fling", who had been unable to produce a foal of her own. This is the first recorded instance of a foal being produced by a clone and out of a clone.

Equine-Reproduction.com To Present at CFER

CFERWe are pleased to announce that Equine-Reproduction.com's Jos Mottershead has been again invited to present at the Colloquium For Equine Reproduction being hosted by the British Society for Animal Science and being held at Nottingham University on 17th April.

The Colloquium is in its fourth season and combines an ability to present new scientific information to veterinarians, students and the public with an opportunity for veterinarians, researchers and breeders to meet and discuss ongoing issues and needs related to the subject. More details are available by following the linked image to the left.

Plaintiff in Failed Australian AI Case to Seek Leave to Appeal

Lawyers for Australian Thoroughbred AI litigant, Bruce McHugh, have made application to lodge an appeal against the judgment. McHugh's lawsuit, an attempt to require the Australian Jockey Club to permit the use of artificial insemination (AI) in the breed failed just before Christmas. The request will be made before three Federal Court Judges and the decision should be handed down in short order.

Horse breeders worldwide will be interested to see if the Court will allow a review of the case, thereby possibly reopening the doors to end what many - both within and outside the Thoroughbred industry - perceive as an archaic restriction. Others will however consider this as a prospective new threat to the traditions of the industry.

CEM Outbreak in California Expands to Multiple Horses

OIE have announced that the CEM situation in California that initially involved a single Lusitano mare has expanded and currently involves 12 animals - ten stallions and two mares. The "index mare" (the mare originally identified as infected) had been bred using both live cover and AI methods to a 20 year old Lusitano stallion which has now been tested positive for presence of the CEM-causing organism Taylorella equigenitalis. This stallion was imported in 2003. While details are limited, the fact that so many stallions are immediately considered at risk and that AI has been used to breed the mare suggests that a semen collection facility or breeding farm may be at the center of focus as the location common to all animals. In 2008 a similar situation occurred where the point of transfer between stallions was thought to possibly be the breeding mount used for semen collection. Many semen collection facilities now routinely wrap the back of the mount with disposable plastic wrap which is changed between each collection involving different stallions, or alternatively wash down the mount after each collection.

Mare Tests Positive for CEMO in California

The OIE (Office International des Epizooties - the World Organisation for Animal Health) today reported that a 17 year-old Lusitano mare located in the Fresno region of California (USA) has tested positive for presence of the Contagious Equine Metritis organism (CEMO) Taylorella equigenitalis. It is reported that the bacterium was identified in a pre-breeding evaluation and that there has been limited breeding exposure not known at this time to have involved any horses outside California. The mare has been placed in quarantine and treatment commenced.

This latest case has not been linked to previous outbreaks at this time, but will certainly represent a concern to US horse breeders who had been hoping to see a possible reduction in restrictions placed on shipping semen to Canada following the outbreak in 2009.

Australian Court Hands Down Thoroughbred AI Decision

Almost a year to the day after final arguments were presented, Mr. Justice Robertson has handed down his long-awaited decision.

In a case that has been before the Australian courts for several years, lawyers for Bruce McHugh - a Thoroughbred breeder and past chairman of the Sydney Turf Club - argued that the Australian Jockey Club's refusal to register Thoroughbred foals produced through artificial insemination represented a restraint of trade and a breach of the Trade Practices Act. Supporters of the Jockey Club's stance argued that the ban kept Australian Thoroughbred breeding on a par with International Thoroughbred standards. The hearings took place in September and October of 2011 and involved over 40 witnesses. Final arguments were presented in December of that year, and the Judge withheld his decision until today...

Mr. Justice Robertson's judgment presented today found in favour of the defendants, The Australian Jockey Club Ltd., et al, indicating that a refusal to register foals produced as a result of AI was not a restriction of trade. The decision will come as a relief to the defendants as well as to some Australian Thoroughbred breeders, who saw the action as a threat to International recognition and Registry reciprocity of the Thoroughbred produced in Australia.

While McHugh's case focussed on a restraint of trade argument, it is surprising that the vocal Australian animal rights movements - which has succeeded in causing a ban on racing over fences in most Australian States and of Steeplechasing in the State of Victoria - have not questioned the welfare of stallions that are obliged to breed as many as 250-300 mares a year by live cover, and this in some cases in less than a six-month period. Some of those stallions breed that many mares or more when placed in a "shuttle" situation, moving from the Northern hemisphere's February to June breeding season to a repetition in the Southern hemisphere's August to December season. The stress placed on some of these stallions can be considered to be significant, and if the Thoroughbred industry does not police itself in the matter, it should be a concern for all - inside and outside the Thoroughbred industry - that at some point it will be policed for them by others. AI would have seemed a simple solution, with the ability to breed multiple mares from a single ejaculate, as well as the use of cooled or frozen semen which can be shipped within the country or Internationally.

So for the moment, the Status Quo remains, but for how much longer, one has to wonder...

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What was the duration in days of your mare's live-foal producing pregnancy?
Survey commenced in 2008 foaling season
Results © Equine-Reproduction.com
result319 Days or fewer:4.51%
result320-326 Days:7.05%
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result345-350 Days:12.73%
result351-356 Days:8.83%
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result363-370 Days:8.43%
result371 Days or greater:20.68%

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