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Cloned cow brings a little Sunshine into world

By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia

In a country clouded by a deep suspicion of foods from cloned animals, a little Sunshine may help soften consumers' fears.

Born on the coldest night of the year in mid-December, Sunshine is a female calf that's just like countless other calves born around the country.

The only thing special about Sunshine is her mama, KC, the first cow ever cloned from cells collected from a dead cow. KC was named after the kidney cell from which she was cloned after it was taken from a side of beef in the freezer.

"She's a beautiful calf," said Steve Stice, the University of Georgia scientist who directed the team of scientists who cloned KC. "This is not a great scientific feat. It's just another indication that cloned animals can reproduce and have normal offspring."

Perfectly normal

Sunshine's birth was so perfectly unremarkable that most Americans' disapproval of animals like her seems hard to justify.

She got her start when KC was artificially inseminated with semen from an Angus bull. She was born naturally in the middle of the night without human help. She's alert, lively and the right size for a calf born to a first-calf heifer -- 72 pounds.

"KC is a great mother," said Allison Adams, a former UGA graduate assistant who worked with Stice on the project, along with Kate Hodges, another former UGA graduate assistant.

Polls over the past few years have shown that nearly 60 percent of U.S. consumers oppose cloning animals, even livestock. People cite many reasons for their fears. The single biggest is their religious beliefs.

"I don't know what people are afraid of," said Stice, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and one of the world's top experts on cloning.

Stice clearly believes in the benefits of cloning that Sunshine's mama makes obvious.

Farmers have been improving the genetics of their herds since the first cattle were domesticated. But it's a painfully slow process. Carefully culling the worst and breeding the best may produce noticeable improvements over a lifetime.

Benefits

Cloning, though, can greatly speed that process by producing exact genetic copies of the best animals. The technology Stice used to clone KC now makes it possible to evaluate even carcass traits such as marbling and tenderness before making the copies.

Like KC, the cloned cattle themselves won't go into the food chain. "They're too valuable," said Stice, who conducted the research with the biotechnology firm ProLinia Inc. ProLinia was later bought by ViaGen, Inc.

The offspring of cloned cattle, though, will be valued mostly by people who prize tender, juicy steaks and roasts. That's what makes Sunshine newsworthy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is considering the safety of food products from the offspring of cloned animals. "Data from cloned animals' offspring will be helpful to them," Stice said.

The curious, lively Sunshine confirms what Stice already knew about cloned animals. "Their offspring are normal," he said. "They do all the things any other calf or piglet does."

(And yes, the calf was named after KC and the Sunshine Band, the group with hit songs like "That's the Way (I Like It)." The name wasn't his idea, Stice said.)

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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