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Cloning: Starbuck II and the spider 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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St. Hyacinthe, Que.: Starbuck, the world's most famous Holstein bull, is "reincarnated" via cloning two years after his death. Starbuck II not only looks like his predecessor, he acts like him.

Montreal: A herd of 50 cloned, transgenic goats carry a gene from spiders in their chromosomes. They express spider silk in their milk, which may one day be used to create bulletproof vests. CBC Radio's Sounds Like Canada takes a look at Quebec's burgeoning cloning business.
• Hanoverhill Starbuck (1979-1998) was a star of the agricultural community. He was proclaimed "Premier Sire" 27 times at North America's largest Holstein shows.
• Over his lifetime, Starbuck's semen generated almost $25 million in sales. He sired some 200,000 calves in 45 countries. It is said that most of the world's Holstein cows are related to Starbuck.

• Starbuck II was created by l'Alliance Boviteq Inc. and the Centre for Research in Animal Reproduction. They used nuclear transfer technology and a frozen skin cell that was collected a month before the original Starbuck died.
• Creating Starbuck II took fewer attempts than needed for Dolly, but it was still difficult. Researchers made 68 attempts at creating viable embryos. Fifteen surrogate mothers were used. Six pregnancies survived to 60 days; only one went to term.

• Nexia Biotechnologies created the "spider goats" by injecting a single spider gene into a goat egg before it was fertilized. Their first two genetically engineered male goats to carry the spider gene were named Webster and Peter.
• Spider silk is made of a protein that is (by weight) five times stronger than steel and twice as strong as Kevlar. Different kinds of silk can stretch between 30 and 200 per cent without breaking.

• The spider goats can produce up to 7.5 grams of silk proteins a day. Nexia wants to extract the proteins and spin them into fibres they call BioSteel. BioSteel may one day be used to create bulletproof vests, biodegradable medical sutures and lightweight aerospace components.
• Nexia is working with the U.S. army on both BioSteel and a new anti-nerve agent.

• While cloning and transgenics hold great promise for producing both top-quality animals and large quantities of useful proteins, some scientists have grave concerns about their broader ethical and environmental implications. For example, scientists don't know what would happen if man-made transgenic animals bred with animals in nature.

• Cloning also presents issues of biodiversity (biological diversity), the principle that a wide variety of species and a large "gene pool" is needed to maintain a healthy ecosystem.
• Cloning could have positive effects on biodiversity (e.g. preserving an endangered species), or negative effects (reducing genetic variation among cattle, or creating a forest of trees all susceptible to the same disease).
Medium: Radio
Program: Sounds Like Canada
Broadcast Date: April 2, 2003
Guest(s): Daniel Bousquet, Marc Noël, Lawrence Smith, Jeffrey Turner
Host: Bernard St. Laurent
Reporter: Ron Ravelley
Duration: 14:41

Last updated: May 2, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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