Ever since the birth of the first cloned animal Dolly the sheep in 1996, the demand for pet cloning has grown worldwide. It is now possible to clone your beloved pet, but the financial cost, potential health complications, and ethical issues may put off prospective customers of this highly controversial procedure.
Sooam Biotech, a South Korean company, is offering dog lovers the ability to clone their dog, but the requirements will be prohibitive for many pet owners. The procedure costs US$100,000, not a viable amount for the majority of the population. In order to clone a dog, a living tissue sample must be obtained. If a dog has been deceased for over 5 days, this is not possible. The entire process takes 60 days from the date the donor cell from the dog to be cloned is inserted (enucleated) into a donor egg cell, at which time a puppy clone can be delivered to a happy recipient.
The procedure is not without its flaws. The Doggy DNA from the donor dog has gone through the ageing process, which means the level of mutation is higher than a normal newborn puppy. Telomeres are pieces of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes. They shorten as cells divide and are therefore considered a measure of ageing in cells. Some cloned mammals, including Dolly, have shorter telomeres than other animals of the same age. The only study of cloned mammals that have lived long enough to determine any effect on lifespan revealed that the mice involved died prematurely.
While cloned pets reportedly share many behavioural traits with their donors, animal behaviour is also affected by nurture as much as nature. This means that differences in the way the cloned dog is raised may mean it doesn’t have exact same personality as its forebear. Of course, the memories of the pet can not be replicated with current technology. So although the pet may look and act almost identical to the original, it will not be a carbon copy.
The ethical debates surrounding the issue of pet cloning are highly personal and subjective but remain a real issue for the public image of the industry. A relatively uncontroversial issue is how the surrogate mother and any potential surplus clones are treated. Dog lovers would agree that cloning labs should treat all animals involved in the procedure with the same love the clone recipient has for their new dog. Specific regulation for cloning labs has not been established. The issue of tampering with the natural process of life is also a highly emotive issue for some.
While there are many issues around cloning pets, the technology and regulations around this practice will continue to improve and any current flaws in the system can be removed over time. Pet cloning is still a highly attractive option for many people with the means to do it, as it is a way to bring a beloved friend “back to life”. A common bond that all dog owners who choose to clone their pet share is a deep love for their furry friend that transcends the death of their pet.
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