Friday, March 25, 2005

Fido 2

At work today, we had our monthly staff meeting, and part of the time we had a conference call from a scientist at a cloning company, Genetic Savings and Clone. This is the company who recently cloned a cat for $50,000. One of our staff had met someone at the company, who offered to just inform us of the technology. Before the call, most of our staff was pretty morally opposed to cloning pets when there are so many homeless animals euthanized daily.

The scientist was really interesting. He stated he was not out to change our minds to be for or against cloning, he just wanted us to be aware of the process. You see, a veterinarian has to get a skin biopsy from the pet in order to submit it for tissue culture to later be used for cloning. You can do this on a live dog or cat, or one that has been dead and refrigerated for 5 days or less.

Cats, like horses, cattle, and sheep, can be cloned with current technology, but dogs have proved more elusive. This is because dogs ovulate an immature ovum (egg) unlike the other species. The company gets ovaries from stray facility spay and neuter surgeries, and harvests the eggs and matures them, then injects the DNA from the tissue culture. The irony of them harvesting eggs from animals taken out of the reproductive pool to limit pet overpopulation was not lost on us.

He stated that the reason to clone a pet was to replace a lost companion. Most of the owners that submit biopsies do it out of abject grief at the loss of their pet. 2 weeks later, when the company calls to let them know if the cells grew, most clients have come to terms with their loss and state that they do not want to pursue the cloning any further. Cats can be cloned at this point, but for dogs they are simply preserving the cells for later cloning.

One of our staff asked about how much of the personality was transferred in clones. Although many people say the cloned pet will do things just like the original pet, other times completely opposite personality traits have been observed. Although the nuclear DNA is the same between the original pet and the clone, there is cytoplasmic DNA (mDNA) that is directly inherited from the mother's ovum. So although genetically the clone is a copy, it is not completely the same, since the ovum didn't come from that animal or its mother.

The scientist also said that he understood this was an extremely expensive process, and should only be undertaken if the clients knew to expect a replacement pet, not an exact replica. And, no one should mortgage their home to pay for it. He personally had all rescued animals for pets and would not do this for one of his pets. He talked about the pros and cons equally and even referred us to websites against pet cloning.

I guess in the end he achieved his objective, informing us about what his company does without persuasively swaying us one way or another. I'm sure he is working there because it is an exciting new field, not because he feels a calling to preserve other people's beloved pets. He also gets funding for his science. I guess if I had a client in the absolute nadir of despair over losing their pet, I could offer to take a biopsy. But in my heart, I would be hoping they could let go of their dream of reproducing this animal more than spend so much money for a fair likeness.


EdamameMommy said...

Enjoyed learning about the mDNA/ovum stuff.

EdamameMommy said...

Meant to add this...

but how creepy and corny is their company name?

Anonymous said...

Fascinating and yet disturbing. I liked the facts about the mother contributions, too. M