The idea of cloning scares many and fascinates others. A lot of what we hear about it comes from science fiction and our knowledge of what is possible with cloning is sketchy at best. Many people know Dolly the sheep was cloned back in the 90s and then everyone got bored with the whole thing. Things didn't end with Dolly though. Since Little Nicky the cat was successfully cloned in 2004 and Snuppy the puppy was born in 2005, scientists around the globe have been in the business of pet replication. For a hefty price tag of course, with one cloned pup coming in at between $50,000 and $100,000.
HOW DOES PET CLONING WORK?
Pet cloning is not quite like the cloning of fiction where someone steps into a cubicle and their double steps out of another. Instead, the cloning process is more similar to IVF (in vitro fertilisation) treatment for humans. DNA is taken from an animal's cells (usually a skin cell) and placed in an egg cell extracted from another animal. The egg cell will have been wiped clean of a nucleus so it only uses the inserted DNA when it is growing. This egg is then zapped in a lab until it becomes an embryo and then it is placed in a surrogate mother so she can give birth to it. The animal that is born will be genetically identical to the animal the original cells were taken from. So there you have your cloned animal — be it a cow, a sheep, a cat or a dog.
WHY GET A PET CLONED?
Most cloning is done with cattle to keep a particularly good bull in the breeding pool and the same logic applies to dogs. If you have a dog that is the ideal mix of breeds or has a perfect set of eyes, then puppy cloning might be the solution for you. This way you won’t lose those unique characteristics forever. The main reason for most pet cloning is to never really have to let go of your beloved companion — but here is where cloning sometimes falls short. In 2009,BioArts, the only company commercially offering pet cloning in the USA, stopped doing business. The main reason they gave for this was that there just wasn't enough demand from pet owners. With a clone, you get a genetic copy of your pet but you don't get the exact same pet. Personality and appearance are controlled by genetics. However, genetics are altered or activated by environment and a dog's behaviour is, in part, shaped by how it's reared. A cloned dog may look and act somewhat different from the dog you have now. For many this would defeat the point of cloning. You can clone biology. You can't clone upbringing or what we might think of as a dog's soul. If what you need is a dog that will be very similar to your current dog, only with its own quirks, then cloning might be for you. If you want your dog to stay the same forever, then you might be disappointed.
HOW TO GET A DOG CLONED
Cloning dogs is generally safe. It faces many of the same issues as IVF, but it can be done ethically and it is consistently successful if the right care is taken with the surrogate mother. While pet cloning is legal in the USA, it is not common. The Sooam Biotech research facility in South Korea seems to be the go-to place for safe pet cloning. The company claims to have successfully cloned 700 dogs in 2015 and is keen to make the practice commonplace. Cloning is priced at $100,000, and in just over three months you could be raising your own cloned puppy. Sooam only clones dogs (cat owners, you may have to wait a bit longer or go to Genetic Savings & Clone). There is a short time period after a dog has died, at most 12 days, during which you can extract cells for cloning. Only a vet can extract cells from a living dog for cloning. The price for pet cloning has not changed much in the last decade and it's not likely to drop soon. Demand is still relatively low and ethical cloning takes a lot of work. Unlicensed dog cloners offering cut-rate prices should generally be avoided.
TEACHING A NEW DOG OLD TRICKS
Animal cloning is a reality that has made itself known in the pet and agricultural industry. As technology improves and the cloning process becomes more reliable, expect to start seeing doubles of the dogs you once knew. If cloning is for you, make sure to prepare for it before it is too late and to place your dog's cells in the hands of those you can trust.