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Logan — Two Utah State University professors recently received a three-year, almost $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help fund research seeking to increase cloning efficiency.
Current cloning practice involves using the nucleus from a regular cell, such as a skin cell, inserting an unfertilized egg into it and asking that cell to reprogram and direct embryo development, said animal, dairy and veterinary sciences assistant professor and project director Clay Isom. It’s an inefficient process because cells don’t always reprogram properly, leading to cell death.
Isom said there are warning signs to indicate when a cell has not reprogrammed properly, and this is where his research comes in.
“We think that we may have an indicator or test that would suggest that a cloned embryo has undergone proper reprogramming,” Isom said.
With the help of co-director and assistant professor of animal, dairy and veterinary sciences Abby Benninghoff, Isom plans to make a batch of cloned embryos and separate them based on his new test, indicating which cells are healthy and which are unhealthy. Those cells, both healthy and unhealthy, will then be transferred into surrogate mothers to see if the healthy cells survive at a higher rate than the unhealthy cells.
“This would allow us to test cells before we waste any time on the bad ones and focus on the healthy ones instead,” he said.
Technologies like cloning are an important part of animal agriculture and food production because they can help increase the production of animal products like milk, eggs and meat. With a growing population and an increasing demand for food, cloning could help meet a high demand of those products, Isom said.
Cloning also aids a large segment of the biomedical community in researching disease, pharmaceutical drugs and stem cells. However, Isom said, the technology of cloning isn’t fully used because of how inefficient and expensive it is. His hope for this project is that it will help make cloning a more time and cost efficient process.
“If we make it more efficient, people can capitalize and start to use this technology,” he said.
While the money from the grant will be used to help supply materials and tools for the research, it also financially supports undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students who work on the project, giving them real-world training.