Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should: Commercial Pet Cloning
Dolly the sheep is perhaps the most famous textbook example. In 1996 (feel old yet) she was the first ever mammal cloned, but in the meantime cloning has significantly evolved and has removed its sheep coat for something more profitable.
For a mere $50.000, companies in South Korea or the US will clone your favourite pet. The perfect way to keep your best friend with you forever … or so they advertise. Barbra Streisand herself has taken advantage of this opportunity to clone her dog Samantha and received several copies in return.
I mean, it sounds awesome right! I never had dogs myself but I did grow up with three cats and they were my best friends. Yes, some cats can be man’s best friend as well. And every time they were cuddling with me I would instruct them never ever to die.
Unfortunately for me, cats can be very stubborn and they decided not to listen to me. Two of my cats have passed away in the past years and I still miss them. Thinking I could get them back if I were only rich enough is therefore an enticing idea. Just imagine one pet staying with you from birth to death and possibly longer. That future is actually already possible!!!
But knowing the basic facts about cloning, I would never, absolutely never, clone an animal for personal recreational reasons. And neither should you. Because cloning an animal is not a simple 1 2 3 procedure. Even if you have the money, it carries major ethical issues with it.
Let’s first recap what cloning is again. First of all, there’s three types of artificial cloning: gene cloning, reproductive cloning, and therapeutic cloning. Reproductive cloning is the one we’re focusing on today as it is the only one in which you create a whole new organism. In this case, somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) is often used. Don’t worry if you don’t understand any of these words. I’ll explain it all in broad lines by using a doggy as an example.
Let’s start with the actual dog that the owner wants a copy of. In order to get there, donor cells from that animal are extracted which can be done from many different places of the body. We call these somatic cells: basically any cell of the body that’s not a reproductive cell. Following the extraction, the cells are cultured in a laboratory in order to make sure there are enough viable options to be used for the actual SCNT.
But before we continue with the next step in the procedure, something else first needs to happen with a completely different dog. Not only somatic cells need to be extracted from a donor, but as one of the first steps, unfertilized eggs are taken from the fallopian tubes of another female. To harvest these eggs, the dog needs to be pharmaceutically manipulated in order to establish the right hormone levels, after which a surgical procedure is done to collect the cells. A quite invasive surgery although it does not cause any permanent injury.
The nucleus inside those unfertilized eggs is then removed in a laboratory, taking with it all the DNA that was stored inside, creating an empty egg without any genetic material.
Now both the cultured donor cells and the empty egg cells are together in the laboratory and it’s time for a party. The different cells are fused together, so the nucleus and with that the DNA of the donor cell establishes itself in the empty egg cell. The DNA is truly the star of this show, as those curled up molecules hold the ENTIRE identity of the clone. An electric burst is eventually applied to fuse all the membranes together and jumpstart their cell division.
Why use an additional egg cell instead of just impregnating a surrogate with the donor cell? That is because a somatic cell is already adjusted to fit its own role (such as being a skin cell) and does not contain the right ingredients to provide for the necessary multiplication and growth of an entire living organism. An egg cell on the other hand is of course the perfect candidate to create new life.
After that energetic event, the embryos are left alone to develop further for a few days. The embryos that are determined to be successful are then surgically implanted in the uterus of yet another dog – the new surrogate. This dog mommy is also treated with hormones in order to fraud her body into believing she is pregnant. At times she is even forced to mate with infertile males to further convince her body of having a natural pregnancy.
So in the end how many animals are used to replicate one dog? As chances of a healthy born clone that survives the pregnancy are still quite slim, eggs are actually taken from several animals as well as inseminated into a number of surrogates. In case of Tai, the first dog ever cloned, 1000 embryos were implanted into 123 dogs with only two live births as a result. One puppy died a few days after birth, the puppy that survived lasted for 10 years. In other cases, animals have often been born deformed or came out as a non-perfect clone. It is unclear what happens to all these dogs.
Since Tai, the success rate has increased by 20%. However, that still leaves a rather high ethical bill to pay.
What’s even sadder, even if you would be okay with the financial and moral price of this procedure, the result would not be what you had expected. Yes, a clone will LOOK exactly like your dog or cat. But unfortunately it’s always the character of a pet that people want to remake. And SURPRISE, the character of your pet is formed by both its genetic makeup as its experiences.
Nature AND Nurture
A genetic replica of your pet will therefore NEVER be the exact same as the animal you loved so much. So rather than wasting your money and effort chasing a ghost, maybe just consider to adopt a whole new character to love. There are way too many full shelters in the world anyway.
What do you think? Would you ever consider cloning your pet?
Other good reads about (pet) cloning:
You Love Dogs? Then Don’t Clone Them
Yes You Can Clone Your Dog, but Would You Want to?
Cloning of Macaque Monkeys by Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (These scientists recently cloned macaque monkeys and it was big news in the scientific community)