It is inevitable that one day we will have to say a final goodbye to our pets as sadly, they just don’t live long enough. Some pet owners find it helpful to get a new pet as soon as possible to fill the void left in their lives, but no matter how hard you try to find a replacement it will never be quite the same. However, if you have a spare $100,000 you can have your pet cloned and re-live their lives as puppies or kittens.
Snuppy the puppy
The first successfully cloned dog – an Afghan Hound called Snuppy – was born in 2005, nine years after the birth of the famous Dolly the sheep. Snuppy was cloned by a team of scientists from Seoul National University, whose leader Hwang Woo-suk went on to form his own cloning company – Sooam Biotech – and has since gone on to offer commercial pet cloning to those who can afford it.
It was Sooam Biotech that produced the world’s first commercial dog clone in 2011. The dog cloned was a Labrador called Lancelot owned by Edgar and Nina Otto from Florida. The couple paid $155,000 for the pup clone, who they named Lancelot Encore, and they were very happy with the outcome, saying they bonded with Encore straight away as he looked and acted just like the original Lancelot.
The cloning process
The clone of an animal shares the exact genetic identity as the original, just as in naturally occurring identical twins. The complex cloning process involves DNA being taken from an animal while it is still alive, or shortly after death, and implanting it into a ‘blank’ donor egg that has had its nucleus removed. The egg is then given electric shocks to trigger cell division before being implanted into a surrogate mother.
Sooam Biotech has produced more than 700 clones of dogs for commercial customers and in 2015 announced it was teaming up with Chinese biotech company BoyaLife Group to open the Tianjin Animal Cloning Factory. It will be the largest cloning facility in the world and aims to produce up to a million cattle embryos a year to meet the demand for quality beef in China.
In 2015 Sooam Biotech produced two clones of a deceased Boxer dog for a British couple. This was the first for Britain and a first for Sooam Biotech as, when the cells were taken, the dog had already been dead 12 days. The longest delay previously for successful cloning had been five days so this opened the possibility for increasing the timescale in which samples would need to be collected from a dog post-mortem.
For owners who are not in a position to be able to pay $100,000 for a clone of their pet, Sooam Biotech offers a cell storage service. The company will cryopreserve (preserved by cooling to very low temperatures using liquid nitrogen) a pet’s cells for $3,000, which can be defrosted at any time in the future to make a clone.
First cloned cat
The first cat clone, named Carbon Copy or CC for short, was born in December 2001 at Texas A&M University. Genetically, CC was an exact copy of the original cat, Rainbow, just as if they were naturally occurring identical twins, yet they looked very different from each other. Rainbow was orange mixed with patches of black, with a white belly and legs, while her clone was tabby.
This is because the pattern of colours on multi-coloured animals is determined by events in the womb, rather than by genes. It s not known how long CC lived but she had a litter of four kittens in 2006 and reached at least 10 years old. Clones may be genetic copies but they can never be completely identical because there is so much that is dictated outside of the genes. An animal’s character is influenced by early experiences and its environment so it is unlikely that a clone will have exactly the same character and traits as the one cloned.
The cloning of pets is a controversial topic that has divided opinion and there are currently no regulations governing pet cloning. It is, however, illegal to clone human beings and in 2015 the European Parliament voted to make the cloning of farm animals illegal.[pull_quote]
Reproductive cloning is actually a very inefficient technique – the team that produced Dolly the sheep did so on the 277th attempt. Some researchers have also observed health problems in mammals that have been cloned, such as increased birth size, organ defects, premature aging and problems with the immune system. Dolly died when she was six years old, about half the lifespan you would expect from a sheep. It is thought that, because the cells used to create her were from a six-year-old sheep they were already aging.
“The central and continuing problem with cloning is aging,” explains Dr Ron Bank, member of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics in an interview with Veterinary Practice News. “A cloned animal is not a newborn, chromosomally speaking. It might look like a kitten but its body is already well along in life. As such, geriatric medical issues will come a lot sooner than usual. Why create for my pleasure an animal that will suffer old age maladies while middle-age joy is fleeting?”
It is unlikely that cloning will become a popular choice for pet owners in the future. Although a cat or dog cloned from a dearly beloved pet will have the identical genetic make-up as the original it may not look identical and personality-wise it could be very different. Therefore, cloning should not be seen as a way to replace a departed pet. So much of an individual’s character is a product of its experiences and environment in early life, which is impossible to replicate.
“I believe that every life has a beginning, a middle and an end,” says Dr Susan Spence, member of the Society for Veterinary Medical Ethics in an interview with Veterinary Practice News. “It’s curious to me why a person would want to reanimate or re-create a specific life. The circle of life is an absolute, and helping people cope with this is more compelling to me than re-creating a specific life.”