China has developed its own horse cloning system
The scientific breakthrough came with Tian Tian
The first cloned horse was born in 2003. Originally the aim was to secure the genetic material of castrated or already deceased animals for the breeding world by cloning. Meanwhile, horse cloning has become a million-dollar business.
Scientists in different countries – lead by America and Argentina – create high performance sport horses in the laboratory for their financially strong customers. And the Argentine laboratory XYZ is specialist for cloning top polo horses on the assembly line. At the forefront of this business Adolfo Cambiaso, established himself, as an investor and player of clone horses. The superstar of the polo scene now almost exclusively relies on horses, which have been created from the genetics of his legendary horses of the past.
由美国和阿根廷领军的多国科学家为他们的高净值客户繁育出了众多高性能运动型马匹。其中，位于阿根廷的XYZ实验室，专业为客户克隆顶级马球马。走在这项事业最前列的，就是阿道夫·坎比亚索 (Adolfo Cambiaso)先生，他是克隆马球马事业的投资人和主要玩家。那些马球马大赛的超级明星马匹，几乎毫无例外，都克隆自过去那些久负盛名的马匹。
China has a long horse tradition. But the market has changed massively: For a long time, work horses have dominated, but nowadays sport horses are mostly sought after, and the demand for elite horses in all disciplines is very high. The local market cannot meet this demand. Since 2016, Tianqi biotechnology Ltd, has been conducting research in the areas of industrial horse breeding and reproductive systems, including cloning, and cell therapy. On August 16, 2020, after 5 years of research, Tian Tian, the first cloned horse in China, was born. POLO & LUXURY owner Birgit Hügli-Herrmann spoke to Dr. Liu Hongbo, CEO of the Tianqi biotechnology Ltd Laboratory.
Birgit: Doctor Liu Hongbo, first of all, my congratulations to you and your team for the first cloned horses. In many western countries, horse cloning is a million-dollar business for years. Why does China invest in the development of its own research?
Liu Hongbo:Thanks a lot! It’s my honor to have the chance to introduce my team’s work. As you know, cloning has many potential applications in an animal breeding program, endangered animal protection, and biomedical field. As one of the most useful assistant reproductive techniques, animal cloning has been a concern worldwide. Although many achievements have been made, cloning is still not developed enough from a technical and an economical perspective, such as the low successful rate.
Demands for sport horses are rapidly growing in China, but the local horses can’t meet most of them. China has been importing a large number of elite horses from aboard in recent years. In 2018, China imported more than 2,000 horses from overseas. The imported horses are expensive, and it will cost much more time to produce more offspring. A better stategy will be to clone them to save time and money.
Cloning will be helpful to protect and develop the local horse breeds. The elite sports horses which have lost the normal reproduction ability could be cloned as well. Furthermore, the cloned horses will continue the good relationship between the horses and their owners. So, it will be much more effective, convenient, and valuable to develop the industrial horsecloning system for China itself.
Birgit:Wouldn't it have been more economical to import the western cloning technology and to clone horses in China on this basis?
Liu Hongbo:From the beginning of this century, especially in recent years, our country has attached great importance to the protection of native animal germplasm resources and the development of animal breeds. Last year, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of the People’s Republic of China and the General Administration of Sport of China jointly issued the National Horse Industry Development Plan (2020-2025). Preserving the genetic resources of local breeds and enhance innovation in horse breeding are listed as the important ways to establish a modern horse farming system which is one of the main tasks to be accomplished of the Plan. Breeding Chinese sport horses (i.e., warm blood horses, endurance horses, and polo horses) with modern breeding technology is mentioned in this Plan.
China Horse Industry Association (CHIA), the leader of the Chinese horse industry and the main drafting organization of the Plan, have paid lots of attention to horse breeding techniques for quite a long time. Cloning is one of the core techniques that could help or accelerate local horse protection and horse breeding innovation. People of the Chinese horse industry have a strong will to master the horse cloning technique by themselves rather than simply import this technique from other countries. As a member of CHIA, Tian Qi was honored to develop the horse cloning system for China.
At the same time, horse cloning is still a young technique, although it has an eighteen-year history. Horse cloning is still one of the most expensive and complicated techniques in comparison with cloning other animals. There is a very long way to go for a great technique to be accepted and appreciated by the people. By cloning horses, it could be a much cheaper, easier, and valuable choice for the world’s horse industry, and Tian Qi and the Chinese horse industry want to make contributions to the development and progress of the cloning technology.
Birgit:How does the cloning technique developed by you and your team differ from the technique used in the West?
Liu Hongbo:To the best of my knowledge, there are not many groups focused on horse cloning and very little published data available, so it is difficult for me to establish the differences.” I’m looking forward to having international exchanges and cooperation opportunities in the future. I think we can learn more from each other.
Birgit:How many clone-horses have you reproduced? How many horses do you expect in 2021?What horse breeds and genetics are you currently working on?
Liu Hongbo:After 5 years of hard work, we obtained four clones in 2020.Now we still have about 20 pregnancies beyond day 200. They’re expected to be born between June and August 2021. We have been developing the cloning system suitable for the local breeds, Akhal-teke horses, warm-blood horses and polo horses.
Birgit:What are your plans and goals for the next 5 and 10 years?
Liu Hongbo:We’re eager to develop a modern horse cloning system to support the demands of the market. It should be a much cheaper, easier and more intelligent system, and bring great value for the people. If we can eventually share the value of horse cloning with millions of people, it will turn into a large business.
Birgit:China has developed its one polo horse breed successfully. Do you have any special plans regarding cloning of the Chinese polo horses?
Liu Hongbo：As you mentioned, with the direction and help of the CHIA, the Chinese horse industry has developed its own Polo horses successfully. A polo horse group standard was issued by CHIA early last year. China has a pretty long history of playing Polo and many people are enthusiastic about this sport. I believe that we have the ability to clone polo horses.
However, as far as I know, compared with cloning, breeding polo horses with artificial insemination or natural service is not expensive. If horse owners have high-level polo horses which unfortunately are infertile or they want to obtain offspring from high-level polo horses, it is very possible to speed up the breeding work, and they might ask us for help.
Birgit:How high do you estimate the economic factor of cloning and reproduction of horses per year?
Liu Hongbo:The horse has many potential applications in culture, tourism, sports, education and health systems. The horses of good breeds and genetics could bring great value.
The assistant reproductive techniques are expected to accelerate the propagation of superior horses, such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization, cloning and embryo transfer. To my mind, with the rapid development of the industry, the cloning and reproduction market scale for horse will reach $10 billion per year sooner or later.