Originally created 09/24/98

Top cloning researcher tapped for UGA chair



ATLANTA -- The man who made news by cloning two identical, genetically engineered calves -- George and Charlie -- could soon be working at the University of Georgia.

A $1.5 million endowed chair has been developed to improve economic development in the state through animal cloning and Steven Stice has been tapped to fill it. The University Systems' Board of Regents is expected to approve his selection at its October meeting.

"The thought is to further the cloning research in the area of pigs and cattle and expand genetically the number of pigs and cows," Stice said Wednesday. "We want to create better pigs and cattle for agricultural applications."

Armed with various degrees and more than 10 years experience in the cloning research field, Stice will begin his tedious work, which will include isolating genes to increase muscles in animals.

"Using the cloning technology, we could be making genetic modifications that would increase muscles, therefore increase the productivity of pigs," said Stice, who will be leaving his job as chief scientific officer at Advance Cell Technology, a biotechnology firm in Worcester, Mass. that he helped create.

The chair -- officially called Eminent Scholar in Animal Reproductive Physiology -- is financed by the state and the Georgia Research Alliance. The GRA is a non-profit organization that works to make the state economical business more attractive by pumping money into research universities. Using state and private funds, GRA has funded 28 eminent scholar posts.

Michael Cassidy, vice president of the GRA, called Stice a "lightning rod in this industry." And biotechnology is where agricultural producers are turning these days, he said.

"We've met with the Georgia Cattle Association and pork and milk producers last year as we were beginning to think this through," he said. "They were very enthusiastic. They've done about as much as they can do with traditional selection and nutrition as far as improvements go."

Glenn Smith, executive vice president of the Georgia Cattleman's Association, said he thinks producers are excited about the chair.

"Genetic selection is something we've been doing for years through selective mating, etceteras," he said. "Now we can take those genes that are desirable and hope to match those up to make genetic progress. Ultimately, it improves what we deliver to consumers."

Another eminent scholar at the university, Clifton Baile, will be working with Stice in the animal science department. The two, along with George Murphy of Menlo Park, Calif., will also have a stake in a start-up company called OptiGen. Its focus will be on licensing and commercializing the discoveries.

Baile expects Stice to be start the job -- which will be strictly research, not classroom instruction -- around Oct. 16.

"This will generate a leading technology in the state," Baile said. "No one in state is doing this type of cloning of mammals. It will create new jobs and major contracts. I anticipate in time revenue will stream in that the university will benefit from. It allows graduate students and others to work on a cutting edge of technology."