Nature versus nurture will be put to the test when the world's first cloned animal from the horse family challenges naturally-bred runners next month in the U.S. state of Nevada.
Idaho Gem is a mule created three years ago by cloning the DNA taken from a fetus produced by the same parents that sired champion racer, Taz.
The University of Idaho scientists who cloned Idaho Gem also produced two other cloned mules in 2002 from the same DNA.
One of those, Idaho Star, will compete against Idaho Gem in Winnemucca, Nevada and on this summer's California fair racing circuit.
Because Gem and Star have been separated for two years and trained by different trainers, watching how they perform against each other will offer insight into the role such environmental variables as diet and training play in developing racing mules. Though the jokes about the two clones finishing in a dead heat are legion, no one is expecting a tie.
Just because they carry the DNA of past champions, there is no guarantee the clones will be successful.
"We know they have the genetic capability to be great," said Don Jacklin, who leases Idaho Gem from the University of Idaho for about $1000 a year. "We don't know if they are going to have . . . the attitude to want to run and want to compete and want to win."
Mules are produced by breeding a female horse with a male donkey.
On Friday, the two cloned mules whinnied and ran like their naturally-bred rivals working out with them at a Stockton track.
"There's is nothing abnormal about these cloned mules," said Gordon Woods, the lead scientist who created them.