The Clone Conundrum – Should We Consider Cloning Our Pets?

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Can’t imagine living without your cuddly pet? At some point, the idea of cloning your pet might have
crossed your mind. With the technology and resources that we have today, it is possible to do so.

In 1997, the news of Dolly, the first ever clone of an adult mammal, shocked the world. The female
Finn Dorset sheep clone was produced by British developmental biologist Ian Wilmut and his
colleagues from Roslin Institute, near Edinburgh, Scotland.

Dolly was not the first clone ever made but was considered a breakthrough because cloning from an
adult mammal was thought to be impossible. Her existence sparked the possibility of cloning many
different species at that time.

Nowadays, you can clone your pet for US$50,000 – US$100,000. The thought may be tempting but
there are a lot of things to consider before cloning your furbaby.

How Are Clones Being Made?

Dolly as a lamb with her Scottish Blackface surrogate mother. Photo courtesy of The Roslin Institute, The University of Edinburgh, UK

There are two ways to clone an animal. The first method, embryo twinning, is similar to creating
twins. This is done by splitting an embryo in half and then placing it in a uterus.

The method that was used to produce Dolly is called somatic cell nuclear transfer. Somatic cells are
all the cells in the body excluding the sperm and egg cells. These cells contain two full sets of
chromosomes which scientists use to make a clone. This is done by transferring the DNA from the
somatic cells into an egg cell without an embryo and DNA.

This egg will develop into an embryo with the same gene as the cell donor. The developed embryo is
then implanted into the uterus of the surrogate mother. If the pregnancy is successful, the clone will
be produced when the surrogate mother gives birth.

It is important to know that the clone may not be 100% the same as the cell donor. Aside from a
slight difference in appearance, cloning does not confirm that the personality of the clone will be the
same as its donor. Without the shared memories and former nurturing, meeting the clone of your
former pet might feel like meeting a stranger, albeit familiar-looking.

The Ethical Conundrum

The idea of prolonging your time with your beloved pet sounds like a dream but it may not be
exactly how you picture it. Since Dolly, there have been many successful animal cloning. However,
scientists have noted harmful health effects in cloned mammals.

According to the National Human Genome Research Institute in United States, the clone might have
an increased birth size, several defects in vital organs and suffer from consequences like premature
aging and immune system problems. Because the cells are taken from an adult mammal, the relative age of the cell is older and may affect the lifespan of the clone.

Besides that, a high number of surrogates are needed to ensure a successful clone. To produce
Snuppy, the first ever cloned dog, scientists used over 1000 embryos and 123 surrogates. Out of
those surrogates, only three resulted in pregnancy. One foetus was miscarried, and one clone
developed a neonatal respiratory distress and died a few weeks after it was born.

Even though the number of animals used in the process has decreased since Snuppy, many still
question how many animals are being used to create one successful clone. In a 2018 article by
Scientific American, it was mentioned that pet cloning companies are not subjected to regulations.
Thus, the number of animals involved in cell harvesting to surrogacy is not exactly known.

To Clone or Not To Clone

Cloning animals is not just limited to reviving a beloved pet. It has created opportunities for us to
save animals and even preserve certain skills that may be hard to replicate.

De-extinction uses cloning to resurrect extinct species. This process is not actually trying to revive an
entire extinct species like we see in Jurassic Park as that is still considered not possible. Instead, it
helps scientists to learn more about extinct species which can help conservation efforts of the
present endangered species.

In Canada, a dog name Sydney was cloned to preserve her rare skills to detect sulfidic minerals.
According to Sydney’s owner, Shaun, Sydney is involved in around 20% of the detection work that
Shaun’s mineral prospecting company must do when they visit a location. Unfortunately, Sydney
was spayed, and no other breed of dog could compare to her abilities. Since she was getting older,
Shaun’s only option was to clone her.

There are a lot of things to consider before making the decision to clone your pet. It is a huge
financial constraint and even if you do not put a price on your love for your pet, there is still a big
ethical dilemma.

At the end of the day, the question is not “if you can” but “if you should”. As much as the clone looks
like your adorable pet, deep inside you will know that it is not really the same.

Written by Julaila Latiff
Illustrations by Sung Jernin


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