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Science of cloning champion polo ponies coming to Wellington
#1 Posted : Saturday, March 31, 2018 7:56:56 AM(UTC)

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NEW: Science of cloning champion polo ponies coming to Wellington

ByKristina Webb- Palm Beach Post Staff Writer


Dr. Katie Atwood, a reproductive specialist at Palm Beach Equine Clinic in Wellington, demonstrates a new piece of equipment in the clinic’s reproductive center. (Kristina Webb/The Palm Beach Post)

Posted: 7:00 a.m. Saturday, March 31, 2018




Say you have a one-of-a-kind polo pony. A talented mare, you don’t want to breed her too soon and lose valuable competition time. But wait too long and you could miss the window for successful breeding.

Wellington veterinarians are using technology to solve this and other reproductive dilemmas — with an eye on cloning.

From a new, state-of-the-art reproductive center, Palm Beach Equine Clinic is incorporating new methods of embryo transfer and sperm analysis to help owners prolong their horses’ competitive and breeding lives.

“We have a lot of experience and we’ve gotten some amazing results,” clinic president Dr. Scott Swerdlin said.

Dr. Katie Atwood joined the clinic last year as a reproductive specialist. The 31-year-old University of Florida graduate said she loves working in a field where she gets to “create life.”

“The whole practice has been really supportive of expanding the reproductive program,” she said.

That expansion, which includes a new breeding shed Atwood jokingly referred to as “Mount Atwood,” cost between $200,000 and $250,000, Swerdlin said.

To him, it’s money well-spent to meet the demands of Palm Beach Equine Clinic’s clientele at the facility off Pierson Road.

Cryogenic transfer

One new technique Swerdlin is especially excited about: A process that allows them to double the chances of success when implanting a previously frozen embryo into a mare.

The technique involves breaking down the embryo’s cell wall and removing the cytoplasm, or liquid, inside the embryo. When the embryo is thawed, it has a much better chance of successful implantation. According to recent research at Louisiana State University, this technique provides a 70 percent success rate over the 35 percent success rate found with the traditional method of freezing embryos.

Recently, the first batch of cryogenically frozen embryos taken from horses in Wellington was implanted in mares in Argentina.

“They were frozen from the best stallions from the best polo player from the best team in the world,” Swerdlin said.

Embryo transfer solves an issue equestrians have had for decades: When they want to breed a mare, it takes that horse out of competition for up to 18 months. Gestation for mares is about 11 months.

“This gives them the opportunity to freeze the embryos and then they can use them when they’re ready,” he said.

Atwood plans to travel to Argentina this year to learn more about the process and see the results of the work done at Palm Beach Equine Clinic.

Clones on the horizon

What comes next for Palm Beach Equine Clinic?

“Cloning is something we’re able to offer, too,” Swerdlin said.

Yes, cloning. It might sound like science fiction, but the technique is gaining steam around the world. A recent episode of “60 Minutes” on CBSfeatured polo player Adolfo Cambiaso, known widely as the best polo player in the world, who has more than a dozen clones from his favorite mare, Cuartetera.

Cloning has grown in popularity the past decade. Cultural icon Barbra Streisand this year admitted to cloningher beloved dog twice. A Texas-based company will clone dogs for about $50,000 each, the New York Times reported.

“Financially it’s quite expensive,” Swerdlin said of cloning, which can cost upwards of $100,000 for horses. Owners often choose to clone when they favor certain horses for performance, but the reason can be sentimental as well, Swerdlin and Atwood said.

Swerdlin is friends with Cambiaso, and on a recent visit to the polo great’s farm in Argentina was treated to a parade of the clones. A video shows the horses trotting happily alongside each other with few physical differences except in some white markings.

“The body shape and type, everything is so close,” Swerdlin said. The best reason he can see to clone is if a person has “an absolutely phenomenal gelding” — a castrated horse — they want to breed.

But he smiled. “Of course,” he said, “if they had called here before, they wouldn’t be in that position.”

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