Dog Wars: The Clone Wars

Any pet owner would be crushed by their pet’s death. But would you clone yours?

Laura Jacques and Richard Remde paid $100,000 to clone their beloved boxer Dylan, aged 8, who had died last June of a heart attack. The British couple from Yorkshire picked up the two cloned puppies, named Chance and Shadow, last week.

The event is significant for the scientific community, especially in the cloning research field, because it was the longest an animal had been deceased and scientists were able to produce viable clones. Dylan had been dead for 12 days before Jacques and Remde could send in a viable tissue sample to the South Korean company Sooam Biotech Research Foundation.

Sooam has been operating for a decade and has established a reputation for offering one of the most affordable prices for commercial cloning of pets. However, another South Korean company named RNL Bio recently branched out from stem cell research to pet cloning, which increased and competition and led to “South Korea’s Pet Clone Wars,” as dubbed by Time Magazine. There are other centers that offer pet cloning services, but South Korea leads the industry. Commercially cloning pets has a limited market however, and a California-based company named BioArts closed in 2009 due to “financial and ethical concerns”.

What ethical concerns?

For one, critics of the practice argue that the money could be better spent. The thousands of dollars that go into cloning one pet could potentially pay off student loans, buy a house, be donated to a charity – you get the picture.

Another concern is that even when the dogs are cloned, the owners are not actually getting their beloved Spot back. Cloned dogs have different mitochondrial DNA, and thus they are less related than identical twins. Furthermore, nature cannot entirely replace nurture, and it is unlikely that owners of rescued or adopted dogs will be able to replicate the first few months or years of the dog’s life. The personality of the dog may be completely different from the original, as Joan Hawthorne testified in a New York Times article. Hawthorne owns two dogs, Mira and MissyToo, who were cloned from a dog that died in 2002 on the suggestion of her son Lou Hawthorne, the founder and CEO of BioArts.

If you are interested in ethical issues involved with cloning animals, read Lauren Davis’s article on Io9, which outlines such concerns, particularly in regards to commercially cloning pets.

Other possibilities for cloning animals have been brought up as well. Examples include cloning special breeds of sniffer dogs for police or medical work, and cloning animals for food production or replenishing endangered species. For information on cloning animals beyond pets, read David Warmflash’s article on the Genetic Literacy Project.

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