[Editor's note: The following story
originally appeared in the February/March issue of Pro
Bull Rider. Pro Bull Rider is the award-winning
magazine available to PBR Posse members. For information about
joining PBR Posse, go here.]
FORT WORTH, Texas - A casual fan could
have been confused.
There was Panhandle Slim, 1997 World Champion
Bull, taking Stormy Wing to a less-than-stellar
79.5 points at the 2011 World Finals.
Well, it had to be age.
But there he was again, this time with
And again. Silvano Alves.
In the same round.
He'd show up once more, this time with
Harve Stewart in Round 5.
Hell of a bull, would run the thought. Didn't
think they lived that long.
They don't. Panhandle Slim's been dead for
At the 2011 PBR World Finals, shades of the
ill-tempered bucker were there, just the same. They looked just
like him. They were him, in a way.
They were clones.
They were born - made, created - five years
ago, the project of a Stephenville, Texas, contractor named Scott
Accomazzo had bought the retired Panhandle Slim
as an investment.
But five months after the purchase, it became
clear that Panhandle Slim was fading. He wouldn't live long, and
the return on Accomazzo's investment - Slim's valuable semen -
would soon be six feet under.
Accomazzo pushed the "panic button" to protect
"I've never been faced with that
situation... for somebody to question my Christianity. That hurt
At the time Accomazzo purchased Slim, a straw
of the bull's semen sold for $200. Through marketing and the
promise of a limited supply, Accomazoo drove the price up to as
much as $1,600 per straw - a common practice among breeders.
He still hoped to live-breed Panhandle Slim,
but the bull passed away before he had the opportunity.
That's when he was approached by George
At that point, Houdini, Kung Fu and other bulls
had already been cloned. ViaGen, which has since been bought out by
Bovance, "wanted to clone a bull that bucked." None of the
previously cloned bulls had been considered great buckers.
Panhandle Slim was a World Champion.
The rest is history. Repeating itself.
"We caught a lot of hell for doing it,"
Accomazzo said. "If I could go back, I wouldn't do it. Even though
we were successful and we sold those bulls for a lot of money, I
probably wouldn't do it. It wouldn't have been worth the headache
knowing what I know now."
Since "the experiment," Accomazzo has been
called greedy. Veteran contractors questioned his ability to breed
and raise top-ranked bucking bulls.
Two-time World Champion Chris Shivers takes on Panhandle Slim
"I'm not a guy who enjoys that part of it," he
said. "I was stressed out over it because I've never been faced
with that situation, you know, for somebody to question my
Christianity. That hurt me. They said I was playing God, and said I
was greedy, and asked how I can call myself a Christian."
At a Touring Pro Division event in Fort Worth,
Texas, earlier this year, Accomazzo spoke candidly about his regret
for becoming involved in an industry that has been humming since at
least the 1980s.
"We were scientifically recreating something
that God had already created, so were we playing God?" he asked
rhetorically. "Obviously, there were some people who were pretty
dead-set: Yeah, we did."
TIGHT FITTIN' GENES
What exactly is a clone?
Dr. Joe Abels, whose Brazil-based company is
involved with cloning, said that cloning is enabled by
scientifically manipulating an embryo.
He explained that nuclei of donor cells are
placed into egg cells without nuclei. A series of biochemical
events reactivates the embryo, which undergoes an incubation
process for a period of seven or eight days before then being
implanted in the uterus of the recipient cow.
From that point, the clone undergoes regular
development until the cow gives birth. She has no maternal input in
the calf's genetics.
The genetic makeup is known as the genotype,
and is comparable to the same chromosome lineup in twins.
"The best way to describe it," Accomazzo said,
"is a clone is a genetically-put-together identical twin. That's
what they are, and all we've done is use science and put together a
twin of the original."
The phenotype - physical appearance - can vary
from one clone to another.
The Slim clones all have a slightly different
yet recognizable color pattern, and subtle differences in their
personalities and bucking patterns. For instance, two-time reigning
Stock Contractor of the Year Jeff Robinson, who purchased the
clones from Accomazzo, said that Panhandle Slim was undoubtedly
meaner than the clones.
Robinson said one of the four is decidedly
friendlier than the other three, and one has been more standoffish
than the other three. All four are similar in size and have nearly
the same bucking pattern.
"A clone is a genetically-put-together
identical twin. That's what they are."
Abels said it wouldn't be uncommon for clones
to have environmentally-caused differences.
One distinct differentiator can be the
difference between the mother cow being either a Jersey or
Holstein. One produces more milk than the other, or as Abels
pointed out, "bottle-raised calves never get as big." The key is
reaching what he referred to as "maximum genetic growth."
He also added that despite being a genetic
match, one clone can be more disease-tolerant than others.
"It would be like [PBR co-founders] Gilbert and
Adam Carrillo," Accomazzo explained. "Gilbert and Adam look alike,
and if you didn't know them, you would think they were each other.
They're twins and they ride a little bit different, but they have
the same talent and both started with the same genetics, obviously,
and one went one way and the other went another way.
"Now you look at them, one is still trim and
does a lot and the other is a little heavier because his diet
changed. That would be the same for the clones. Some of them are
lighter, but the general picture - they all have the same inherent
traits and they all started off acting the exact same way."
"When the rumor got out that we had cloned him," explained
Accomazzo, "all the people that had invested or had straws …
started to get nervous, and badmouthing the process, because we
were going to flood the market with clone semen and make the
product worth less."
Much of the naysaying was on religious and
moral grounds. But Accomazzo said the truth of the matter was that
it was financially motivated. He pointed out that no one had had
any issues with Houdini being cloned, because a straw of semen sold
"When people saw it might affect them, that's
when the wrath came down," Accomazzo said.
He contends that if investors trusted that he
would never pull more semen from Panhandle Slim, then they should
have trusted him not to flood the market with semen from the
Accomazzo said most people understand his
position, but that he did lose one friend - Bob Wilfong - because
of hard feelings that he would rather not talk about publicly.
"I tried to explain it," he said of his
decision to go through with the cloning of Panhandle Slim, "but it
fell on deaf ears.
"People had made up their minds about Scott
Accomazzo and why it was done, and didn't open their ears and
listen to my side of the story. If anybody picked up the phone and
called me, they understood where I was coming from."
He added, "I apologize."
"It was an experiment," Accomazzo said.
"Will they be as good? Who knows? When we
bucked them for the first time we knew, but up until that point we
had no idea what was going to happen."
Accomazzo paid a fraction of what it normally
cost to develop a clone. Originally, he and his partner, Superior
Genetics, wanted three clones for $5,000 for each. But in what he
called a "freak deal," they wound up with six on the ground.
Abels said that the typical success rate isn't
very high. He estimated that on average, labs end up with three or
four out of 100 attempts, with five to 10 on the extreme high end
of the spectrum. In the case of Panhandle Slim, they got six out of
One clone broke his neck and had to be put
down, and another was so mean in the arena Accomazzo decided to
have him put down as well. The remaining four, who have been hauled
by Jeff Robinson, regularly compete in short rounds.
All four qualified for last year's World
"Our deal was just trying to put the best bulls
on the truck," said Robinson, who acknowledged he was aware of the
controversy over cloning. "The clone deal is just a novelty. To me,
they're just four really good bulls. It was about putting bulls on
"I don't have a problem with it, but I know
some people have a moral issue with it. I don't really think about
it, to tell you the truth."
Plenty of other animals have been cloned,
including Scamper, a barrel-racing horse. Accomazzo estimates there
are as many as several hundred clones in existence.
American Bucking Bull Inc., the premier
registry for bucking bulls, does not allow clones or the offspring
of clones to be registered, though, so he has no means of verifying
In the years since Panhandle Slim was cloned,
other bulls have been duplicated, including Doctor Proctor, Yellow
Jacket, Little Yellow Jacket, Blueberry Wine, Moody Blues, White
Magic and Big Bucks.
Only one of those clones - a clone of Big Bucks
- is thought to be good enough to perhaps one day compete at a BFTS
Accomazzo said the Slim clones were successful
because of the genetics from both his father and mother, who were
also cloned. Panhandle Slim and Rooster are full brothers, and
according to Accomazzo, an argument could be made about which was
the better bull.
"The Slim clones are consistently better per se
than the Little Yellow Jacket clones or the Big Bucks clones
because of the breeding of Panhandle Slim," he said.
"For instance, I think if you wanted to clone
Rooster, you would have the same situation as you had with the Slim
clones, where if I wanted to clone Dillinger or a bull that just
learned how to buck and turned into a great bucker, then I don't
think your chances will be as good."
DEAD ENDS AND MOVING FORWARD
Not only would Accomazzo decline to clone
again, but Abels, who worked at a lab that was involved with
cloning, has chosen not to pursue it in his own veterinary practice
based in Decatur, Texas.
"Science can be cool, but cloning is
based on greed."
Abels said it's not the technology he's worried
about. It's the people using it.
He considers himself a conscientious man, and a
deeply religious man. Although he tends to give most people the
benefit of the doubt, he admitted, "I guess you could corrupt the
technology like you could any other technology."
Abels and Accomazzo agreed that it would be
possible to steal the DNA of a bull a contractor has no interest in
cloning, freeze it and then use the sample to create a clone,
without anyone knowing where the sample came from.
"There are a lot of questions to ask before you
even start doing it," said Abels. "If you do it more and more and
more, you're going to get away from natural selection.
"I believe in people, so it worries me that
there will be some corrupt people out there who could create the
worst-case scenario indirectly without me knowing and perpetuate a
problem in the future that I don't see as a problem right now."
Because clones can't be registered, Robinson
called the clone "a dead end" and noted that he is not interested
in either breeding his clones or cloning any of his prized bulls.
He said it goes against the foundation of his program, in which
success is measured by marketability.
"Cody (Lambert) said he'll always bring the
best bulls, and when he said it wasn't an issue, that's when we
kind of moved forward on the deal," Robinson said. "I can't market
them, their semen or their future offspring."
"Past their bucking, what are they?" Accomazzo
asked. "They're pasture ornaments."
He's said Mr. Slim is his "buddy," and he's
hopeful that once the bull's career in the PBR is over, he might
return to Texas and live out his life on Accomazzo's ranch outside
of Stephenville. Mr. Slim was tougher to break in the chute, and
Accomazzo spent more time working with him, developing a
Contractor Tino Martinez has expressed interest
in having one as "a conversation piece" at his ranch in Mesquite,
As for the future of the industry, Abels said
it remains a question of ethics.
"I like the science of it and the application
of what you can use it for," he said, "but beyond that, when people
start using it for business only - should we restore life for
For PBR Livestock Director Cody
Lambert, the Slim clones were good enough to make last
year's Finals, and Another One and I'm Back appeared in New York in
January. But he was clear when he said, "Panhandle Slim should be a
"Science can be cool, but cloning is based on
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