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1999: Montreal scientists clone goats

Cloning has leapt from science fiction to science fact. Once merely the realm of imagination (a duplicate Elvis, a rink full of Gretzkys, or an army of Hitlers), the science of cloning, for medical advance or for reproduction, has raced ahead of public policy and ethical debate. From cloned cows to UFO cults, for better or for worse, Canada finds itself in the centre of the clone age.

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Clint, Arnold and Danny are three rambunctious kids. They are also something of a scientific miracle: Canada's first cloned goats. Scientists at Nexia Biotechnologies near Montreal created them from a single cell, making the goats just the fourth mammal to be cloned anywhere. It's a breakthrough, but as we see in this clip, the kids are just a stepping stone toward something even more outlandish: transgenic creatures that can produce spider silk in goat milk.
• A clone is an object or organism that is an exact copy of another object or organism. In biotechnology, cloning refers to the replication of genes, cells or entire organisms in a laboratory.
• Identical twins are a form of clones; they are genetically identical copies that grew from a single embryo.
• For decades scientists have cloned animals (e.g. prized livestock) by manually splitting an embryo to produce twins.

• In 1952, scientists began cloning frogs using a technique called "nuclear transfer." Genetic material from an egg cell is removed, and a nucleus from the cell of another animal is inserted into the egg. The embryo that develops can become an organism with genetic information identical to that of the nucleus donor -- a clone. Some early frog experiments resulted in viable embryos but none survived past the tadpole stage.

• In 1997, scientists at Scotland's Roslin Institute cloned a sheep by inserting the nucleus of a mammary (breast) cell from the udder of one sheep into an emptied egg cell from another sheep. They named the sheep Dolly, a tribute to buxom entertainer Dolly Parton. Dolly was cloned after 276 unsuccessful attempts.
• Dolly was euthanized in 2003 at the age of six due to lung disease and arthritis. Sheep normally live to about age 12.

• Soon after the cloning of Dolly the sheep, scientists successfully cloned mice, cattle, goats and pigs. Subsequent attempts at cloning rabbits, rats, monkeys, cats and dogs proved much more difficult.
• Nuclear transfer technology makes it easier for scientists to introduce genetic changes by adding or deleting specific genes. Combining genes from different animals is called transgenics.
• In 1998, Nexia Biotechnologies created a transgenic goat, named Willow. The goat's genes were altered to produce a human protein.

• In 1999, Nexia used the nuclear transfer technique that created Dolly to produce the cloned goats featured in this clip. They were said to be the world's first. But soon after, an American company called Genzyme Transgenics Corp. issued a press release saying it had cloned three transgenic goats the previous fall. Nexia president Jeffrey Turner downplayed the importance of the claim, expressing pride in the Canadian accomplishment and explaining that the clones were simply a stepping-stone to producing transgenic animals.

• In 2000, Nexia produced Webster and Pete, transgenic goats that carried a spider web gene. They were then bred to create a herd of goats that expressed spider silk in their milk. Nexia called the product BioSteel, and hoped to one day use it to create products like bulletproof vests, biodegradable medical sutures and lightweight aerospace components.
• Spider silk is made of a protein that is (by weight) five times stronger than steel and twice as strong as Kevlar.

Also on April 27:
1942: In a national plebiscite, Canadians vote in favour of conscription for overseas military service.
1992: Lena Haddad, 27, gives birth in Montreal to Quebec's first quintuplets: three boys and two girls.
Medium: Television
Program: Newswatch
Broadcast Date: April 27, 1999
Guest(s): Deborah Buszard, Margaret Sommerville, Jeffrey Turner
Reporter: Ray Fichaud
Duration: 1:41

Last updated: January 30, 2012

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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