Cloning. Double trouble or twice as nice? A light-hearted look at completely avoiding loss (at a cost)
It all started with Dolly the double, then came Nicky the kitty II. Next up, a further 5 canine Boogers from the same 24 chromosomes. Suddenly we had spliced sushi on the side and now you can completely copy Sushi (the Saint Bernard) if you have her DNA in a usable form. Pet cloning is real. You can do it while they’re still alive (like when ladies freeze their eggs) but we need cryopreservation, not crystal formation here, so don’t freeze anything, okay? And boy, will you pay. In dollar, not karma. We can’t comment on the karma. There’s no data on that yet.
If you don’t manage to make a deposit to the ‘cell bank’ while your pooch’s heart is pounding, you can still create an exact and living genetic replica of your hound after her last howl. Wrap the body carefully in wet towels and chill– nope, not freeze – it. A company called Sooam Biotech will extract the genetic material within 5 days. Within five to six months of genetic manipulation and cellular incubation and natural gestation, you’ve got a complete genetic replica of your pet. Weird? Maybe so, but many pet lovers already bought into it.
This cutting-edge biotech company in Korea boasts 900 cloned companions to date according to an aptly titled customer portal, “Not You But You”, Sooam bought the rights to the technology that first copied Dolly and is helping mourning animal lovers do a double take the world over. In a good way.
How is cloning done?
It’s complicated, but, in lay terms,
- You preserve the genetic material
- They extract the nucleus of skin cells within 5 – 12 days. It’s called “harvesting”
- Insert them into an unfertilized donor egg (with its nucleus – original genetic material – removed) and
- Insert this combo into a suitable surrogate mother to enable gestation.
They’re keen to help you sidestep the emotional pain of pet loss using their clever “franken Science”.
“Clients look like they found a child that had been missing,” says Head researcher Jeong Yeon-Woo, recounting the moment when clone and human are united in unnatural harmony and husbandry, if you can call it that. You probably can’t.
“The moment of pure joy like that … makes me realize again why I’m doing this.” Bet the dollar signs don’t dampen his morale, either.
They may garner a long list of repeat customers who never need to let go, but love on loop should lead any animal lover to ask, “what about all the existing animals that need love?” Hundreds of thousands of stranded, stray and abandoned domestic animals need homes right now (and will be euthanised when they aren’t adopted), which makes cloning for comfort ethically iffy, let alone a potential insult to natural selection. DNA is copied, completely, and no gene selection takes place. Effectively, cloning’s elective selection entirely excludes natural selection from the equation. And yet species rely on natural selection to thrive. Can we afford to slow evolution as the sixth mass extinction wipes species out so fast, they can’t adapt at all?
Best Friends again? Eight commonly-asked questions about cloning your pet
- Will Chookie the clone look the same as my current animal does?
Not exactly, but pretty close. Chookie is much more likely to look like an identical twin. The real question is, will it be a spanner in the works for you that your cocker spaniel’s curly ears are noticeably droopier the second time around?
- Will Lisha have the same winning personality?
Demeanour is part upbringing, part biology (and, some argue, part soul) and it’s kind of hard to replicate these exactly, so you can settle on a pretty steady ‘probably’ for this one.
“More and more findings are highlighting the importance of genes in determining personality traits,” says Sooam FAQs. “By replicating the genes, we replicate the ‘potential, or genetic tendency’ for the clone to develop like the original, but cannot replicate the rearing experiences.” You could try giving double the love in the second round to see if there’s an improvement – in your parenting
- Is it only dogs?
It was. Another company, ViaGen, will clone your kitty. They now clone up to 500 individual species and specialize in cloning cattle and pigs for medical research and breed preservation as well, particularly developing genetically-engineered animals for use as disease models. They’ve copied coyotes and grey wolves as well as endangered species like the Ethiopian wolf and the dhole (Asiatic wild dog) though not for the public. “It is the most meaningful way that we can use the technology to contribute to society,” says Sooam’s research director Yeonwoo Jeong.
- Is this legit?
It is …now. The guy who founded Sooam, Woosuk Hwang, was a fraud for a time, and nearly went to jail for faking the replication of human stem cells. He recovered his cred by focusing on a proven scientific method with pooches and developed the techniques to the present-day productservice. Looks like making it is as tough in the scientific community as it can be in business and ethics are soon overlooked where profits emotions bubble over…
- Who on earth clones their cat?
All types (who can afford it). Clone clients include celebs, royalty and those with an interest in replicate highly skilled sniffer and rescue dogs used in anti-drug squads, detecting explosives, finding missing persons, counter-terrorism efforts and general protection.
- So… how much?
At R1,2 million a pop the Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer – or SCNT – the process may leave you smiling and, well, skint.
- I guess there are cloned celebs, then…
You guessed right. Trackr, a sniffer dog who found the last living victim of the World Trade Center attack, became even more famous when they multiplied him by 5 and enjoyed a renown that Dolly was always due, poor girl.
- What if I get the evil clone?
What-ifs are important in love and life but this is science, not Sci-Fi. That’s why we stress proper care of your pupper from the get-go and invest in hugs, runs, healthy boundaries and empowering activities like puppy behavior classes. This way, you know who’s to blame if your beautiful baby is lacking in certain non-chromosomal departments.
Speaking of the missing link, what do we think? We are alarmed by cloning’s inhumane aspects especially in the case of livestock for food production. Cloning factory farmed animals has proven risks including high mortality, malformed organs and painful births. It’s a bit like breeding; how many unsuccessful mutant clones and innocent mothers died painful deaths during research and birth? Too many. Then again, natural selection – the mother of nature – could, itself, be couched as the leader in ethical issues; survival of the fittest is violent! We’re also human (for the time being), and we know that nothing’s going to stop science (except maybe climate change). Also, domestic animals are, themselves, already the product of genetic manipulation, though not by a scientist, and this doesn’t make it okay, anyway. While GM (0) debates rage and labs work quickly and quietly to change life at sub-cellular levels, gene-edited mozzies might help eliminate malaria in Africa, and, whatever your reservations, you’re probably already eating apples that stay bright and white thanks to lab tweaks. At the same time, human impact on the natural environment is losing us species so fast that we’ve entered the sixth mass extinction, and the large amounts money that Sooam and others ask could support a lot more than one animal at once if applied sustainably. So, would dotsure.co.za do it? Some of us weighed in:
“Never. It would be an insult to the memory of my pet.”
“Yes, in an absolute heartbeat. I would do anything for my dog. “
“You can never copy their personality and soul. And they would always be measured against the original which wouldn’t be fair.”
“Yes. I would give anything to keep Nina forever.”
Even if we can’t agree with ourselves, who are we to decide for you? We want the absolute best care for your pets and we’ll ensure Hercules the First and again if you decide to do it. But bear in mind that that the actual act of preserving the DNA could, depending on the cause of death (or your emotional mettle), be more traumatic for you than dealing with loss and getting the support you deserve. We recommend that whatever you do in their furry futures (or to them), you love and protect your pet even more right now. And don’t worry, it’s perfectly natural. Thanks, evolution.
Here’s the science again if you’re still scratching your head. Are you sure it’s your first head?
Dolly, filling in the dots: “so the website name… they’re planning to copy people? Could I get one to cuddle me and one just stand there with food?”