Cloning is now available for our pets. It’s not out of a science fiction novel – the American singer-actress, Barbra Streisand really did clone her beloved late dog Samantha! From the cloning process, to cost, to ethical issues, there are few things you need to know about pet cloning.
You’ve probably heard of pet cloning as Barbra Streisand’s cloned dogs made headlines in early March. The American singer-actress spent some of her fortunes to clone her 14-year-old Coton de Tulear, Samantha who passed away in 2017. “One of the reasons I chose cloning because I couldn’t find another curly-haired Coton,” Barbra Streisand reveals why she cloned her dog in a New York Times editorial.
Grief hurts. Losing a pet can be just as heartbreaking as losing a human family member. Many people are very uncomfortable with death – and it’s totally understandable. Coping with the loss of a pet may be one of the hardest challenges that many pet lovers face, and each person grieves in very different ways. Some people manage to carry on as normal; some may feel the need to immediately soothe the burn by bringing home a new pet; there’s no right or wrong way to deal with the death of a loved one. As the technology improves, grieving pet owners can now clone their beloved dead pets to mend their broken hearts.
Our pets are so adorable, so magical. They fill our home with love, kisses, flying furs and wagging tails! How can we possibly live without our beloved pets? Losing pets – this fear is perfectly reasonable. For some pet owners, cloning a pet is one way to deal with the loss of a furry family member.
But first things first – what is pet cloning? John Woestendiek, author of a book on dog cloning explains the pet cloning process, “In addition to the tissue sample of the original canine, cloners will need to harvest egg cells from canines in heat maybe a dozen or so. And, after zapping the merged cells with electricity so they start dividing, they’ll need surrogate mother canines, to carry the puppies to birth.”
To put it simply, the scientists take the cells of one animal and fuse those cells in another animal’s egg. That egg becomes an embryo, which is transplanted to a surrogate mother. U.S.-based ViaGen Pets and South Korean-based Sooam Biotech confirm that live births are used to create their clones. The delivery takes about 60 days after injection with the cloned embryo for pets to be born, sometimes by cesarean section surgery.
US-based commercial company ViaGen Pets clone dogs and cats for $50,000 and $25,000 respectively, while a controversial biotech lab in South Korea, Sooam Biotech will clone your Fido for $100,000. According to Business Insider, Sooam Biotech was established by trained veterinarian and scientific researcher named Woo Suk Hwang.
Having been banished from his academic institution for fabricating research, Hwang was publicly disgraced and still faces criminal charges. Nevertheless, the demand for pet cloning has grown worldwide. To date, the firm has cloned more than 700 dogs since it was founded, approximately 15 clients per month.
No. It is important to note that pet cloning is just like giving birth to an identical twin, only separated in time. There are still differences in personality and appearance. CC, for instance, the first cat to be cloned is a female calico cat that looks very different from her mother. This is because the coat pattern and colour of felines cannot be attributed exclusively to genes. National Human Genome Research Institute reveals that a biological phenomenon involving inactivation of the X chromosome in every cell of the female feline determines which coat colour genes are switched off and which are switched on.
The distribution of X inactivation, which seems to occur randomly, determines the appearance of the feline’s coat. Meanwhile, the American singer-actress, Barbra Streisand also noted that her cloned dogs Miss Scarlet and Miss Violet have different personalities. In a recent interview with Variety, she says, “I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have (Sammie’s) brown eyes and her seriousness.
Her observations are consistent with evidence that human identical twins can be different in appearance, temperament or personality. The explanation for the changes in appearance and behaviour is that primarily alterations to DNA and histones of the clone affect the gene expression, according to Bayview Seven Animal Hospital.
The cloned dogs or cats may appear slightly different; Great Danes, for example, may have different spots. It’s unlikely that the pet’s personality can be replicated in a lab as environmental factors play an important role just as the genes do. The veterinarians also remind pet owners that the cloning process is not zero-risk; many canines are born unhealthy, so they have to repeat the procedure until a healthy canine puppy is produced, although the pet cloning company claims it never puts an animal down.
The pet cloning technology is not available in Singapore yet. Companies like ViaGen in Texas, United States and Sooam Biotech (Pet Again) in South Korea offer animal cloning services for pet owners.
Is it wrong to clone a beloved dead pet? It’s very easy to understand why pet owners would want to clone their dead cats or dogs. At the same time, it’s also difficult to justify the pet cloning process, both scientifically and ethically. Pet cloning seems to offer hope of never having to let go of a beloved pet. We, however, have to admit that it involves certain unpleasant facts.
Producing one cloned pet requires several additional pets to help bring it to life, according to National Geographic. As mentioned, the pet cloning process involves implanting the resulting embryo into a surrogate mother that carries the puppy or kitten to birth, and more importantly – it requires numerous animals to create one cloned animal. The surrogate mothers don’t appear to lead a pleasant existence as they may also have to undergo multiple pregnancies just to produce one viable puppy or kitten clone.
A veterinarian named Dr. Katy Nelson says, “They’re being kept hormonally supplemented, so that they can create these embryos at will.” The pet cloning process is not easy and there are still many errors which bring up animal welfare considerations. For example, many fetuses are aborted or born with severe abnormalities. James A. Serpell, PhD, professor of Animal Ethics and Welfare at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania says, “Companies often use purpose-bred female dogs as surrogates. And it’s not really clear what happens to them afterwards.
In short, cloning animals involves procedures that cause distress and pain, with high failure and mortality rates. RSPCA claims that “the process of pet cloning is invasive, involving a healthy surrogate animal undergoing procedures – which are not for the animal’s own benefit and which may have welfare and health implications”. Ultimately, the reasons for wanting to clone a pet are most often tied to the grief of losing a much-loved fur-mily member. While there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, adopting a new pet may offer an alternative, healthy way to cope with your loss.