For roughly $50,000 you can clone your favorite dog or cat. Speaking strictly for myself, I was somewhat startled. Are we there already?
Since I’m still sewing up cuts with plain old needle and thread, I find some of this high-tech stuff interesting. And amusing. And disturbing. So while I’m still healing the old fashioned way, somewhere out there veterinarians are offering to clone your pet.
They start with something as simple as a skin biopsy, a little 6 mm circle of tissue taken from your pet and carefully preserved for the genetic material found in its DNA. From this they can replicate the DNA and fuse the sample with an egg. This grows into an embryo that can be implanted into a surrogate mother. Once born you have a “clone” – a pet produced asexually from one ancestor to which they are genetically identical “twins.” A lot of this original work was being done in South Korea. There are now companies based in the United States that also offer either to preserve your pets’ DNA for future cloning or you can order up your very own clone today. In humans, identical twins result from the natural splitting of an egg in utero and both children contain identical DNA genetic makeup. Someone labeled identical twins “natural clones”?! Canine clones appear to have been the most popular pet clones requested by the public in this early work.
There’s a lot to consider here.
Say everything goes smoothly with the pregnancy and your little clone is born. Let’s name her “Clonia.” In the old nature-versus nurture-debate, right from the get-go we may have the same genetic material but it is going to be raised by another mother. That surrogate doggie mom may have been chosen for her availability as a uterus (think “animal shelter rescue”) and may not be particularly personable towards humans. And everyone, mom-dog and puppies, are living in a laboratory setting, not on Grandma’s comforter in your kids’ bedroom closet. So the first six weeks or so are not in a home environment and raise some serious questions about early socialization for the beloved Clonia. From what I could gather, responsible lab researchers provide careful monitoring to rule out abnormalities in the little clones, so many don’t go to their homes until they are several months old. Developmentally, they cannot be properly evaluated until then. This means even more time spent in a laboratory setting, coddled and cossetted, no doubt, for $50,000, but not a home. So when you do bring home your old pets’ genetic double, Clonia may not act exactly the same as her ancestor. Maybe not at all. Nurture versus nature.
And what happens to the mother dog, once she has performed her duties? This issue is clouded by lack of information. Clonia, by the way, cannot be registered with the American Kennel Club, no matter how prestigious her ancestral pedigree. Since the first dog cloned in the United States was born in February 2016, as of this writing, there isn’t a lot of information out there about “identical personalities” to the original pet. Somehow liking to chew up your sneakers or wagging your tail clockwise isn’t enough to convince me that you have reincarnated the original pet. Isn’t that really what this is all about? Clonia may not physically be an identical twin and again, her personality, shaped by very different early experiences, may be substantially different.
There are so many hearts and homes out there looking for each other that I find it hard to recommend seeking love through a clone. Would a clone of Shakespeare, father to twins Hamnet and Judith, still pen his famous works, such as “Romeo and Juliet” wherein he wrote “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.” I suspect that that which we call a dog is each an unique individual and that the search to duplicate your beloved pet by cloning borders on smoke-and-mirrors shell games, not something sweet.
Christine McFadden, DVM