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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Think I'm A Clone Now

Any Weird Al Yankovic fans out there?  If so, you'll get the reference in this blog title.  For those who don't know much about this classic music artist, here's a YouTube link.  But he's not the reason for today's post.

Today at work we were talking about a recent news story involving a woman who traveled to South Korea to have her recently deceased dog cloned.  She spent $50,000 to have a company harvest her dog's cells, develop an embryo, and implant it in a surrogate mother.  In her case it worked, and she now has a living clone of her old dog, whom she says is identical in every way to the dog she lost.

This isn't the first time pet cloning has been in the news.  Animal cloning first went public in 1996 with the famous development of Dolly the sheep.  Since then many livestock have been cloned.  Back in 2001 a cat was cloned, and several dogs and cats have been created this way since then.  A few companies have been founded with the goal of making pet cloning a commercially viable endeavor, with prices ranging from a few thousand to tens of thousands.

I know that people dearly love their pets.  I certainly do mine, and I can think of several that had their lives cut short and would love to have back again.  It's also understandable that people become attached to a particular pet over others and never want to loose that bond.  But I also have a lot of difficulties with the idea of cloning and would never do that with my own pets.

First, there is the cost.  Approximately 3-4 million animals are euthanized in shelters every year in the US.  Yet someone will spend $50-100,000 to clone their pet?  I can think of so much more that can be done with that money that will benefit animals in a far greater way.  Still, it's their money, and I don't have much problem with people being stupid with their fiances if they came about the money honestly. 

Second, there are serious medical and ethical concerns in the cloning process.  Many embryos never become viable, and there is a high rate of birth defects in the process.  Is it fair to develop several deformed animals in order to get one good pet?  Also there is the question of the surrogates.  If you read articles about South Korea's cloning industry (such as the one linked above), many of the surrogate mothers end up on "farms" and may not be treated properly. 

Lastly, you simply don't get the same pet.  You are copying genetics, but that doesn't mean that it's going to be 100% the same.  Even with identical twins you will have differences in personality and even looks.  My wife's brothers are identical twins and do share many similarities.  But I can tell the difference between them most of the time, even in older photos, and they do have several different personality traits.  That's been the same with every set of twins that I've known.  You can have completely identical DNA, but how each gene is expressed and which ones are turned "on" and "off" can vary.  The first cat cloned, CC (short for Carbon Copy) was a calico, and though gentically identical the original and the clone have different markings.

A person or pet's behaviors are a combination of genetics and environment.  So rather than "nature versus nurture", it's about how nature is affected by nurture.  Environment is never going to be the same.  In the article above the woman got her beloved dog when she was 18 years old and the dog lived for 18 years.  The circumstances and situations that were around 18 years ago are not going to be the same now that the woman is in her late 30s.  Yes, you will have genetic tendencies for behavior, but how those tendencies are molded by experiences is going to be different now.  So no matter how similar the clone is to the original, it will never be the same.

Don't even get me started on human cloning!  It's great in science fiction, but that gets too much into the realm of souls for my taste, and I'm completely against it.

And all of this brings me to the latest poll.  If you had the money or could get it done for free, would you have your favorite pet cloned?  I'm interested to see the results.

5 comments:

  1. Hi Dr. Bern-
    I'm a third year veterinary student at VA-MD RCVM this year. I saw this story recently, and it's certainly food for thought. I agree with you. I think there are far too many wonderful potential companions euthanized every year because there are simply not enough homes for them. The thought of spending of thousands of dollars to get a clone seems incredible.

    However, I recently lost a cat to FIP, who was less than two years old. It completely ripped me in two, and when I read about this story I thought about what I would do if I had the income to spend on the cloning of my beloved Aristotle, taken away far too soon. I don't think I could do it. I love that cat with my whole heart, but as you said, I would be able to tell the difference, and I think the similarities would be enough to eat away at me, and I wouldn't have my cat back.

    Genes aren't everything. There's so much more to it than that! And there will always be a loving pet waiting for a forever home in a shelter nearby.

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  2. No because it can never replace the lost pet, might die young, and there are new friends to meet and love.... Same for a child!!!! No matter how loved. Boys from Brazil...

    Thought provoking though....

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  3. I wouldn't clone an animal - that's pretty delusional to think that it'll have the same personality and you'll have the same exact bond. I loved the dog that I had for almost 14 years - when her time was up - it was up. While it crushed me and took me nearly a year to decide on getting another dog - at no time during that grieving process did I think "gee, sure wish I could have cloned her". There are far too many homeless animals that need rescuing. I guess some people have it in their minds that cloning means the animal has the same personality, same memories, etc. While we may see it as irrational, for them it probably makes complete sense.

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  4. A little over a year ago, we had to put our beloved Guinevere to sleep. She was only 5 years old, but developed a tumor that came on rather suddenly. I was devastated and cried for days. Even now, I cry when I think of her. She was the best dog. Sweet, calm and so loving to everyone she met. Anyone that knew her. felt the loss, because she was so easy to love. I watched the interview on tv and began to wonder what I would do if I had the money to clone my sweet dog.
    The truth is, as much as I loved her, having a clone of her would not be the same as having her. Once they are gone, it is just not the same and never will be. I now have a very sweet dog who is just as attached to me as Guinevere ever was. It is just as special as my last pet, but I know have a new pet to love and while they will never be the same, they are alike in many ways. I am thankful everyday for the time that I had with Guinevere, but love my new girl Yvaine and am glad to have her in my life(even if she is a bit rotten ;P.

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  5. No way! (Sorry my comment is few months late, I'm getting through all your blogs ... just found it a couple months ago!)

    I love my dogs dearly but I can't imagine ever replacing them, with a clone no less! I love the diversity in dogs and I would never want to have the same dog more than once. And like you said ... there are so many animals being euthanized daily, I would much rather go to a shelter or rescue organization and provide a homeless animal with the love they all deserve!

    Plus there's a huge moral issue here. I don't agree with cloning, period.

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