Bullrings turn to test tube as prized beasts face cloning
US company to duplicate highly valued stud for bullfights22 February 2008
MADRID - Within a few years, the bulls put to death in Spanish bullfights could be the offspring, not of animals born on the grasslands of Andalusia, but of clones grown in test tubes in the United States.
In a move that will put the old Spanish tradition on the frontline of modern technology, the rancher Victoriano del Río has disclosed plans to hire US company Viagen to clone Alcalde, his ranch's most prized stud and the father of some of the biggest and fiercest bulls slaughtered in Spanish bullrings in recent years.
"Alcalde is unique, he's priceless and we wouldn't sell him for all the gold in the world," exclaims Ricardo del Río, Victoriano son. Neither do the renowned ranchers want to lose his genetic prowess and calf-bearing might to old age.
Now 16 years old, Alcalde will be the first bull in Spain to be cloned, creating a replica animal that the Del Río ranch plans to breed from. He will not be the first in the world, however. Viagen says it has successfully cloned at least 300 other animals, many of them prize bulls used in rodeos in the United States. Compared to the 266 attempts that it took British scientists to clone Dolly the sheep in 1996, Viagen says it has a success rate of better than one in 10.
Cloning Alcalde is expected to cost around EUR 12,000, although for the Del Río ranch it will be money well spent. The stud sires between 30 and 40 calves each year, 90 percent of which have "better genetic characteristics" that their mothers.
"We're preserving and multiplying animals that have shown themselves to be genetically superior and that justifies the investment," explains José Córdoba, Viagen's director for Latin America and Spain.
At least two other Spanish ranchers with prized studs are also believed to be considering cloning them as are two breeders of the purebred Portuguese horses used for mounted bullfights.
[Copyright EL PAÍS / RAFAEL MÉNDEZ 2008]
Subject: Spanish news