"Genetics Isn't Everything": You Can Clone Your Dog or Cat, But Should You?

“Genetics Isn’t Everything”: You Can Clone Your Dog or Cat, But Should You?

Time began to turn over 20 years ago when the world said “Hello, Dolly” to the world’s first cloned sheep. At that time, it was only a matter of time before producing genetic duplicates of all kinds of animals became a fool.

That time has arrived for dogs, cats, and various other pets (not to mention at least one wild ferret).

For a tidy sum that would quickly seal the deal on a brand new car, a growing handful of companies will harvest the DNA of your recently deceased (or living) furry baby and deliver a genetically identical creature in about six months.

“You are subjecting many laboratory animals to medical procedures that are unnecessary, of no benefit to them, and may harm them,” he added.

— Sharona Hoffman, professor of law and bioethics, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland

The laboratory part of this process is technically called somatic cell nuclear transfer. Lab technicians harvest DNA from donor cells and plant it in an unfertilized egg. Nature takes it from there, and the actual gestation is inside a “surrogate” animal.

“If I can take one of your skin cells and go through this process of somatic cell nuclear transfer: put it in an egg, the nuclear DNA is 100% yours,” says Ben Hurlbut, associate professor and ethicist. scientist at Arizona State University. .

“So it’s a match genetically identical to you. In other words, it’s a clone.

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Nature versus nurture

But, he warns, “genetics isn’t everything. The development environment is important. Will your dog who grew up with your 2 year old be the same if he doesn’t grow up with your 2 year old? »

That’s a point well articulated by Dan Brekke, 68, of Berkeley, California. He and his wife, Kate, recently lost their beloved dog, Scout. “Of course, it crossed our minds momentarily,” he admits.

“But I think my perspective – both with our dog and with the idea, in general, is that just like a human being, the type of dog he was was an expression of so much more than his DNA.”

Brekke wrote a heartbreaking reminiscence of Scout on his blog, which is worth reading (with some handkerchiefs handy).

“You’re not cloning the personality,” agrees Sharona Hoffman, professor of law and bioethics at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

“Personality is not a product of DNA, certainly not purely a product of DNA. So he could have a completely different personality. And I think if you read reports of people with cloned animals, like Barbra Streisand, they say the animal was different.

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Ethical considerations

This “nature versus nurture” argument came up repeatedly among the social media comments solicited for this story. However, others are put on hold by ethical considerations, including the use of surrogate animals to grow embryos and the overwhelming number of animals languishing in shelters for lack of homes.

“You’re subjecting a lot of lab animals to medical procedures that aren’t necessary, that don’t help them, and that can harm them,” Hoffman notes. “You have to harvest the eggs; you must have pregnant animals.

And, she says, it doesn’t always work. “There is only about a 20% success rate. So to get a successful clone you have to do it to a group of animals.

On a deeper psychological level, some who oppose the practice worry that cloning a beloved pet somehow robs us of an essential part of the grieving process.

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Shorten the grief

“I find there’s something perverse about trying to replicate an animal that you had a deep personal relationship with – a pet that you loved precisely because you want to repeat that experience somehow. another,” says Hurlbut.

“You’re definitely not letting go and moving on,” Hoffman adds. Instead, you’re trying to relive the past, and you might be very disappointed, and there’s probably something very healthy about closing in – grieving – losing the animal and then adopting a new animal.

Yet there is already a proven, albeit rarefied, market for pet cloning – and a market with enormous potential. In 2018, the American Veterinary Medicine Association estimated that nearly six in 10 (57%) US households included pets.

During the lonely years of the pandemic, adoptions skyrocketed, and that number soared to 70%, according to a recent estimate from the American Pet Products Association. That’s tens of millions of dogs and cats alone.

Nevertheless, players in the emerging/nascent pet cloning industry prefer a low profile. As a result, Next Avenue’s requests for interviews at two companies were essentially ignored.

On the website of a Chinese cloner, Sinogen, the contact page shows what appears to be a smiling customer service representative on a phone headset, but the site offers no phone number, only an email form for customers. ask for information.

And on the Texas-based ViaGen Pet Services staff page, executives and key personnel are identified only by their first names.

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A princely sum for Rex

According to the American Pet Products Association, pet owners spent over $123 billion on their pets in 2021. That figure appears to include more than just cloning services.

But according to an international research group, the dog cloning market alone is expected to “reach into the millions by 2028”. It will be easy to do, considering the cost. ViaGen will clone your dog for $50,000. That’s more than the current average cost of a new car.

Cat owners get a break: just $35,000. Long Island-based BioVenic’s rates are slightly lower but within the same range. They will also make rabbits for $5,900 or less and store your animal’s DNA until you’re ready.

ViaGen promises “guaranteed” puppies and kittens, verified by a third-party lab to be genetic duplicates and declared healthy by a veterinarian.

Some people who have cloned their pets think the money was well spent. In April, a representative for ViaGen told the Washington Post that the business had grown steadily over the past six years.

“I’ve always told people that I cloned not because I wanted to bring my cat back to life, but because I wanted to keep a piece of her,” ViaGen customer Kelly Anderson told the Post. “And I think it’s comforting to have that. It’s comforting in a way that I don’t know how to explain.

Opinions on cloning remain undivided

“There will never be another cat like Mike,” says Darlene Martin, 72, of the cat she and her husband, Roger, cherished for 19 years in Newport News, Virginia.

“Full of personality. Amiable and also an incredible pain in the ass,” she adds with obvious affection. “But would it honor him to try to make another one?” She wonders.

“We couldn’t recreate the life experiences that did. Are we so pathetic that we have to recreate a past that cannot be relived? I do not think so. Adopt another creature to share your home and your love. Pass.”

Craig Miller is a veteran journalist based in the Catskills of northern New York. His reporting focuses on climate science and policy, energy and the environment. In 2008, Miller launched and edited the award-winning multimedia initiative Climate Watch for KQED in San Francisco, where he remained science editor until August 2019. He is also a proud member of his local volunteer fire department. Follow him on Twitter @VoxTerra.

This article is reproduced with permission from NextAvenue.org© 2022 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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