Campus: CSU, Chico -- March 16, 2001

Rare Cloned Calves Born At CSU, Chico Farm

Three cloned calves have been born and are doing well at California State University, Chico's College of Agriculture. The embryos were cloned at a biotechnology firm in Kansas and raised at the College's University Farm. Nationwide, only 10 cloned calves have reportedly survived pregnancy and birth.

The Charolais-breed calves were born Friday, March 9, and are currently being nursed by their surrogate mother cows, which are Herefords. The cloned embryos were transferred into the cows by injection, and the mothers successfully carried the calves to term through the 283-day gestation period.

Fourteen embryos of two breeds, Charolais and Black Angus, were transferred to surrogate cows. No pregnancies resulted from the Black Angus breed.

Neither type of embryo was genetically modified. The calves are clones of existing cattle breeds.

Two of the three Charolais calves were born twins to one surrogate cow. Since two embryos were transferred to each surrogate, to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, twin births were expected.

The College of Agriculture engaged in the embryo transfer process through a $58,000 grant from the state Agricultural Research Initiative (ARI). Mandatory matching grants were received from Red Bluff cattle breeder Dan Byrd, who provided the cows from which the DNA for the embryos were taken, and Cyagra, a Manhattan, Kan., biotech firm which performed the cell cloning.

Two years ago, the state allocated $5 million for four California State University campuses that have agriculture programs (Chico, Fresno, Pomona and San Luis Obispo). The ARI funding supports applied agricultural research in areas such as agricultural business management, biodiversity, biotechnology, irrigation management and natural resource management. Matching funds are required to ensure that the research is considered to have value outside of the university.

CSU, Chico agriculture professor Cindy Daley, coordinator of the campus project, said four university campuses nationally have received cloned embryos from Cyagra, a subsidiary of Advanced Cell Technologies in Amherst, Mass. To date, only 10 successful births have been reported.

The process began with the cells being taken from the ear of cows belonging to Byrd. Cyagra used biotechnological methods to turn the cells into embryos. The embryos were seven days old when CSU, Chico received them, and they were immediately placed by injection into the surrogates. Daley said transfer of sexually produced embryos has been used with cattle since the 1970s.

Because of possible difficulties with a vaginal birth, the calves were delivered by Cesarean section at a UC Davis veterinary lab.

CSU, Chico students of Daley's are currently caring for the calves. Once the calves are grown they will be given to Byrd.

"Since the survival rate of the embryos was low nationwide, we're very pleased with the fact that three of ours survived and are doing well," Daley said.

Daley said the ARI project goals were to investigate if cloned cattle embryos were viable, how the surrogate cow pregnancies proceeded and whether the calves would be healthy.

With the Charolais calves doing well, Daley said there is reason for optimism about the utility of cloned embryo transfer for industry. At the same time, commercial application may not come soon. "Embryo transfer met a great deal of resistance when it was developed 30 years ago," said Daley. "This may take a similar amount of time to be widely accepted."

Cloned cattle stock, Daley said, would have obvious value to agriculture because the cattle would be based on the DNA of the hardiest, healthiest animal.

"The science being used in this project is not new, but the application to agriculture is," said College of Agriculture Dean Charles Crabb. "This is not cutting-edge science, but it is cutting-edge industry."

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