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Cloning Breakthrough by Yang, Colleagues,
Attracts Media Attention Worldwide
January 24, 2000

The eyes of the world were on UConn after scientists from the University and Japanese colleagues announced that they had produced genetically identical calves from cells that were cultured for up to three months in vitro before being used for cloning.

It was previously believed that long-term culture of donor cells - if possible at all - would compromise their efficiency for cloning. But the UConn scientists, led by Xiangzhong (Jerry) Yang, head of the Transgenic Animal Facility, say that long-term culture of donor cells may do just the opposite and also may make it possible to manipulate genetic modifications in the donor cells prior to cloning.

The scientists' findings could have enormous implications in the cattle industry, suggesting the potential for using cloning technology to improve the breeding of beef cattle to obtain animals with higher quality meat. The results are also significant for future possible applications of cloning technology in biomedical research.

The research is the result of a collaboration between the laboratories of Chikara Kubota of the Kogashima Cattle Breeding Development Institute in Japan and the Transgenic Animal Facility at UConn.

Media coverage of Yang's cloning breakthrough has been extensive, both at home and abroad. Nationally, some of the newspapers that wrote stories about the family of new bulls included The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Tulsa World, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Washington Post, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Atlanta Journal Constitution, Philadelphia Inquirer, and San Jose Mercury News, as well as newspapers in Connecticut.

Coverage also was provided by the Associated Press, Bloomberg, Reuters, Agence France Press, Deutche Presse-Agentur wire agencies and NPR's "All Things Considered" news program. U.S. News & World Report, News-week, Science, The Scientist, New Scientist, Bio-World, and Health Scout were among the national magazines that also carried stories about Yang's work.

Abroad, press interest was also intense. Among others, Yang has given interviews with reporters from Mexico's Reforma, London's Times and Daily Telegraph, Le Figaro of Paris, Neue Zuercher Zeitung of Switzerland, the Xinghua Press Agency and the People's Daily from Beijing.

When the news story broke in Japan, Kubota, who recently was admitted to UConn as a doctoral student to study under Yang, e-mailed Yang, "This is sensational news here. In one day this news was spread all over Japan."

Using adult cells taken from the ear of a prize bull in Japan, the scientists produced normal cloned calves from the cells after two or three months of continuous culture in vitro.

"Our research shows that cells of aged animals remain competent for cloning, and prolonged culture does not affect the cloning competence of adult somatic donor cells," says Yang.

"In fact, we observed higher developmental rates for embryos derived from donor cells after long-term culture than those after short-term culture." Somatic cells are body cells other than those from reproductive organs.

A paper describing the technique used will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Yang says the researchers were surprised by their results. "These findings are novel and unexpected ... This research should set the stage for future targeted gene manipulations of the donor cells prior to cloning," he says.

"Long-term culture of somatic cells is essential for the possible targeted genetic manipulations of donor cells to create targeted genetically altered cells, tissues, organs and animals via cloning," Yang explains.

"Live clones have been obtained from adult somatic cells in sheep, mice and cows, however these clones all came from donor cells after short in vitro culture, which did not allow targeted gene manipulations."

Another related issue about cloning animals surfaced recently after a study questioned whether Dolly, the cloned sheep, was aging at the rate of the older sheep from which she was cloned.

Yang and Kubota's research is also expected to provide an important model for studying the aging process.

The cloned calves they produced came from the skin cells of a genetically elite, 17-year-old Japanese Black Cattle bull named Kamitakafuku. Famous in Japan for its superior meat quality, Kamitakafuku has produced nearly 160,000 offspring.

Attention continues to surround Yang's work. On Jan 27, China's Consul General in New York, Chen Yuanbao, is scheduled to visit UConn for a formal meeting with President Austin, followed by a celebratory luncheon for Yang to which 40 other Chinese faculty from Connecticut-based colleges and universities have been invited.

David Bauman