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TEKS: 6.12A, 7.14C, B.6A


Should You Clone Your Dog?

Dog owners can now make a genetically identical copy of a beloved pet

RAF WILLEMS/GETTY IMAGES

ESSENTIAL QUESTION: What might be a benefit of making a genetic copy of an organism? What might be a downside?

Karina Karitas, from Florida, learned in 2016 that her 14-year-old dog Baby was ill and would soon pass away. She says she couldn’t imagine a life without her white cocker spaniel. In a moment of desperation that so many pet owners can relate to, she typed “I wish my dog could live forever” into a web search. The results led Karitas to sites about cloning dogs.

A clone is an identical copy of an organism created using the original organism’s DNA—a molecule that carries hereditary information—as a blueprint. Scottish scientists cloned the first mammal in 1996. It was a sheep, named Dolly. The cloning of other mammals, such as mice, pigs, and cats, soon followed (see Cloning Timeline). The first dog was cloned in South Korea in 2005. Scientists there soon began cloning pet dogs.

Karina Karitas, from Florida, got sad news in 2016. Her 14-year-old dog Baby was ill and would soon pass away. She says she couldn’t picture a life without her white cocker spaniel. Many pet owners can understand the pain she felt. It led her to type “I wish my dog could live forever” into a web search. The results took Karitas to sites about cloning dogs.

A clone is an exact copy of a living thing. It’s made by using the first living thing’s DNA as a blueprint. DNA is a molecule that carries hereditary information. Scottish scientists cloned the first mammal in 1996. It was a sheep, named Dolly. The cloning of other mammals, such as mice, pigs, and cats, soon followed (see Cloning Timeline). The first dog was cloned in South Korea in 2005. Scientists there soon began cloning pet dogs.

COURTESY OF KARINA KARITAS

ORIGINAL PUP: Baby “No. 1” was cloned after she passed away (left).

CANINE COPY: Karina Karitas with Baby “No. 2,” the clone of her original dog (right)

For some, having a clone created from a deceased pet they loved seems like a dream come true. “You form a bond with your pet that is intense and unique,” says Dennis Milutinovich. “And if you don’t have to let it go and have the ability to keep it going, why not?” He is the cloning lab manager for ViaGen Pets, a Texas-based company that offers cloning services.

However, creating a clone with the same genes doesn’t mean a cloned dog will behave like or even look identical to the original pet. The procedure also comes with a hefty price tag: It costs $50,000 to have a pet pooch cloned by ViaGen. And while some people may gain an emotional benefit by cloning a pet, there is debate over whether it’s the ethical, or morally right, thing to do.

People can have a clone made from a deceased pet they loved. For some, that seems like a dream come true. “You form a bond with your pet that is intense and unique,” says Dennis Milutinovich. “And if you don’t have to let it go and have the ability to keep it going, why not?” He is the cloning lab manager for ViaGen Pets. This Texas-based company offers cloning services.

A cloned dog is made from the same DNA as the first pet carries. But that doesn’t mean it will act or even look exactly the same. Cloning also comes with a big price tag. It costs $50,000 to have a dog cloned by ViaGen. Some people may gain an emotional benefit by cloning a pet. But there is a debate over whether it’s the ethical, or morally right, thing to do.

A BIG DECISION

After reading about cloning online, Karitas reached out to ViaGen to find out more about its procedures. At the time, she wasn’t sure she wanted to clone Baby. “It was a very heavy decision to bring a life onto this planet,” says Karitas. “I did not take it lightly—it’s like bringing a new member into your family.”

Karitas decided to proceed with genetic preservation. This $1,600 procedure would indefinitely preserve Baby’s DNA, in case Karitas chose to create a clone in the future.

To start the preservation process, a veterinarian took a tissue biopsy. The procedure removed a few small pieces of Baby’s skin. The samples were placed into containers holding a liquid that would keep the tissues alive while they were shipped to ViaGen’s Texas facility. Once at the lab, the samples were used to culture, or grow, millions of Baby’s cells. These were stored in a deep freeze at a temperature of about -130ºC (-202ºF).

Karitas read about cloning online. Then she reached out to ViaGen to learn more about its methods. She wasn’t sure she wanted to clone Baby at the time. “It was a very heavy decision to bring a life onto this planet,” says Karitas. “I did not take it lightly—it’s like bringing a new member into your family.”

Karitas decided to go ahead with genetic preservation. This process cost $1,600. It would preserve Baby’s DNA far into the future, in case Karitas chose to make a clone later.

To start the preservation, a veterinarian took a tissue biopsy. This process removed a few small pieces of Baby’s skin. The samples were placed into containers with a liquid. The liquid would keep the tissues alive while they were sent to ViaGen’s lab in Texas. At the lab, the samples were used to culture, or grow, millions of Baby’s cells. They were stored in a deep freeze at a temperature of about -130°C (-202°F).

COURTESY OF VIAGEN

CLONE CREATION: A lab tool called a pipette steadies a dog’s egg cell as a dog’s skin cell is inserted with a needle.

CREATING A COPY

Baby passed away of natural causes soon after her cells were preserved. Karitas spent another year and a half researching before deciding to go ahead with cloning. ViaGen shipped Baby’s cultured cells to Milutinovich’s lab in New York. He would use them to create an embryo—an organism in the earliest stages of development—with cells containing Baby’s DNA. To do so, he inserted Baby’s cells into egg cells surgically collected from another female dog (see How to Clone a Dog).

Milutinovich then performed an operation to implant the embryo into the reproductive tract of a surrogate dog to carry out the pregnancy. It often takes many tries for a healthy puppy to be born. It took two tries to clone Baby. After about two months, Baby “No. 2” was born in September 2017. Karitas brought her home at 8 weeks old. “It was like reconnecting with Baby ‘No. 1,’” she says. “It was such a profound feeling of love!”

Baby’s cells were preserved, and she passed away of natural causes soon after. Karitas researched cloning for another year and a half. Then she decided to go ahead with it. ViaGen sent Baby’s cultured cells to Milutinovich’s lab in New York. He would use them to create an embryo—a living thing in the earliest stages of development. The embryo would have cells containing Baby’s DNA. To do this, he used eggs taken from another female dog during surgery. He placed Baby’s cells into these egg cells (see How to Clone a Dog).

Milutinovich then did surgery on another dog. He placed the embryo into her reproductive tract to carry out the pregnancy. It often takes many tries for a healthy puppy to be born. It took two tries to clone Baby. After about two months, Baby “No. 2” was born in September 2017. Karitas brought her home at 8 weeks old. “It was like reconnecting with Baby ‘No. 1,’” she says. “It was such a profound feeling of love!”

ETHICAL ISSUES

If this technology can make someone so incredibly happy, why is there debate surrounding it? The main ethical concern about cloning a pet is that doing so doesn’t actually provide any medical benefit to the health of a pet or to people, explains Robert Klitzman. He’s the director of bioethics—the ethics of medical and biological research—at Columbia University in New York City. “A cloned pet is basically a luxury item,” he says.

Some might argue that people gain an enormous benefit by having the opportunity to reconnect with an animal identical to one they once loved so dearly. However, there is a chance that those who pay the high price to re-form this bond could end up disappointed. It’s true that a cloned animal has a very good chance of looking like the original dog. But there’s no guarantee a clone will be identical. The way units of hereditary material, called genes, function can vary—even between animals with identical sets of genes. Environmental factors can also have a great effect on how an organism develops both its physical attributes and temperament.

If cloning can make someone so happy, why is there debate about it? Robert Klitzman is the director of bioethics—the ethics of medical and biological research—at Columbia University in New York City. He explains the main ethical concern about cloning a pet: It doesn’t give any medical benefit to the health of a pet or to people. “A cloned pet is basically a luxury item,” he says.

Some might argue that people gain a huge benefit. They get the chance to reconnect with an animal just like the one they once loved so dearly. But after people pay the high price to re-form this bond, they could end up disappointed. A cloned animal has a very good chance of looking like the first dog. But no one knows if a clone will look exactly the same. Units of hereditary material, called genes, can work in different ways. That’s true even between animals with the same genes. A living thing’s environment can also greatly affect how its looks and behavior develop.

STR/EPA/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

WORKING CLONES: South Korean scientists cloned these dogs from a sniffer dog. They were created to be used by the country’s customs departments to detect substances that could be dangerous or illegal.

Another ethical concern is that dog cloning has only about a 20 percent success rate. That means the process of collecting egg cells to create an embryo and implanting the cloned embryo into a surrogate dog must usually be done many times before a healthy puppy is born. These procedures involve conducting operations on unwilling animals. Klitzman says that performing any surgery carries risks to animals. He explains that surgeries should be done only if they benefit an animal’s health or advance medical or scientific research. “We are subjecting animals to harm when there is a nonessential benefit,” he says, “and that is ethically problematic.”

Milutinovich says ViaGen is constantly working to improve the technology to increase its success rate. He explains that could also bring down costs, making cloning a pet more affordable for more families. Even so, many critics ask: Why clone a dog or a cat when there are nearly 8 million animals in the U.S. waiting to be adopted? “There are plenty of shelter dogs who need a loving home,” says Klitzman.

There’s another ethical concern. Dog cloning has only about a 20 percent success rate. People collect egg cells to make an embryo and place the cloned embryo into a dog. Usually, this must be done many times before a healthy puppy is born. That means doing surgeries on unwilling animals. Klitzman says that any surgery carries risks to animals. He explains that surgeries should be done only if they benefit an animal’s health or help medical or scientific research. “We are subjecting animals to harm when there is a nonessential benefit,” he says, “and that is ethically problematic.”

Milutinovich says ViaGen keeps working to improve the technology to raise its success rate. He explains that could also bring down costs. Then more families could afford to clone a pet. But critics ask: Why clone a pet when 8 million animals in the U.S. are waiting to be adopted? “There are plenty of shelter dogs who need a loving home,” says Klitzman.

CORE QUESTION: Should people clone their pets? Use evidence to support your opinion.

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