Pet cloning is far more advanced than you may have imagined

B.R. Shenoy

“I can either pay thousands of dollars to create a new pet that’s actually going to have a different history and personality, or maybe I could adopt an animal that would otherwise be killed in a shelter. Those are things that ethically need to be considered.” — Bioethics professor Dr. Robert Klitzman stated in a Washington Post article.

What if you could set aside the genetic materials to create a perfect copy of your favorite animal, a pet clone? Would you go through with it?

Humans can now clone pets, and the pet cloning industry is flourishing, particularly in the United States, South Korea, and China.

ViaGen Pets is a pet and equine company based in Austin, Texas, that is a world leader in animal cloning and has been developing cloning and reproductive technology for over 15 years.

ViaGen Pets and other cloning companies such as Sooam Biotech in South Korea and Sinogene in China create clones of your pets using animal tissue and surrogate pets.

However, cloning has sparked debate in the international community due to ethical concerns about its commercial application.

How Cloning Works

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Dolly the Sheep National Museum of ScotlandPhoto Credit: Sgerbic on Wikimedia Commons
“The most basic definition of cloning is the creation of an exact genetic copy of an organism, tissue, cell or gene, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.” —livescience.com
  • Scientists successfully cloned Dolly, the sheep, in 1996, making her the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, rather than an embryo.
  • Since Dolly, hundreds, if not thousands, of animals, including frogs, mice, sheep, and cows, have been cloned for commercial and research purposes.
  • According to Scientific American, in 2005, doctors surgically implanted 1,000 embryos into 123 dogs to create Snuppy, the Afghan hound, the world's first cloned puppy.
  • Plants are frequently cloned; when you take a cutting, you create a clone.
  • Cloning researchers envision an infinite supply of disease-resistant livestock, record-breaking racehorses, and animals from extinct species.
  • The cloning process used by ViaGen is the same technology used to clone Dolly, the sheep.
  • There are several different cloning techniques, but the most common one involves injecting a cell nucleus from the animal you want to clone into a donor egg that has had its genetic material removed.
  • The egg is then stimulated to develop into an embryo in a laboratory. After that, the embryo is implanted in the uterus, or womb, of a surrogate mother, who then gives birth to a puppy, kitten, or foal.

How Much Does It Cost to Clone an Animal?

Pet owners pay $1,600 to ViaGen to preserve a single pet's cells, while the nearly year-long cloning process costs $35,000 per cat and $50,000 per dog, and $85,000 for horses. It can also cost a few hundred dollars a year to store cells.

Most clients, according to ViaGen, choose to save their pet's cells in case they can afford to clone later in life—though enough clients choose complete cloning to keep the business thriving.

What Happens When You Clone an Animal?

  • Cloning creates an “identical twin” (identical in terms of the DNA of the cell nuclei) despite an age difference of several decades.
  • Cloned animals do not always resemble the original pet. According to Britannica, the first cloned cat, known as CC or Carbon Copy, had completely different coloring than the original cat.
  • The clones’ personalities and behavior will differ from the original.
  • Pet personalities are determined by genetics and environment.
  • Diet, the number of pets and children in the home, and the pet's training and treatment can all impact the pet's personality.
  • For example, because of differences in diet before birth and as it grows, the cloned animal may be a different size and have a different coat color pattern.
  • The cloning process is far from perfect, and it can result in failed pregnancies and embryos, putting surrogates and donors at risk.
  • Experts say the clone is still a different animal with no resemblance to the original pet's personality or relationship with the owner.
  • An excellent fact sheet debunking cloning myths can be found at fda.gov.

Celebrities and Influencers Cloning Pets

Technology has enabled (affluent) pet owners to clone their pets in recent years. In a recent Variety interview, actress Barbra Streisand revealed that she created two clones of her pet dog, Samantha, after it died last year.

The fashion world's Diane Von Furstenberg, and Barry Diller cloned their dog Shannon into two puppies for a whopping $100,000 in 2016.

The trend is gaining traction among social media influencers who emphasize the importance of preserving the bloodlines of their pets for future generations.

Detractors of Cloning

Several scientific studies have found that cloned animals are more disease-prone.

Others criticize the industry's high failure rate, citing the large number of clones that are not born healthy and fit. According to a report published by Columbia University in New York in 2018, the average success rate is only 20%.

Surrogate animals are also subjected to multiple pregnancies to produce a viable puppy or kitten clone — and unneeded clones face an uncertain fate.

Even PETA and the Humane Society of the United States, two of the country's most well-known animal rights organizations, have spoken out against animal cloning.

"Cloning experiments reflect a spirit common to all systematic forms of cruelty to animals," the Humane Society of the United States said on its website.“ — Humane Society of the United States website

Closing Thoughts

Cloning is a technology that exists now, and its ethical controversies are unlikely to go away anytime soon, regardless of one's viewpoint.

Is it ethical to clone pets? Would you do it if you could afford it?

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