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Genetic Cloning of Pets?

Genetic Savings and Clone helps you to store a little of today's pet for tomorrow by Angie McKaig

 

Everyone from Congress to your colleagues at the water cooler are still wrestling with the idea of genetic cloning. It's an admittedly thorny issue. But ethical concerns notwithstanding, science continues to make progress in these areas.

Genetic Savings and Clone has made huge strides, funding the "CC" project resulting in the world's first cloned domestic cat (picture, right) and the Missyplicity Project, which hopes to genetically clone the first domestic dog. In time, they hope to be able to provide commercial cat and dog cloning to the public.

But for now, Genetic Savings and Clone's services center on gene banking services for animals of all shapes and sizes - from dogs and cats to livestock, wildlife and endangered animals.

GSC offers two types of genetic banking for dogs: standard (done while the dog is still healthy) and emergency (for very ill or recently deceased dogs). Costs range from $900 to $1400 US, plus a yearly maintenance fee for the samples.

We recently spoke to Ben Carlson, VP of Communications for GSC.

pp: GSC was founded by owner Lou Hawthorne in February of 2000. What made Lou decide to start the company?

bc: Our investor, John Sperling, hired Lou Hawthorne to find a scientific team that might be able to clone Missy, a beloved mutt. Lou solicited proposals and selected a group at Texas A&M University. Once word got out about the “Missyplicity Project”, many people contacted the project to inquire how they could have their own animals cloned. Dr. Sperling, Lou Hawthorne, and some of the Missyplicity Project scientists founded Genetic Savings & Clone in response to this interest.

pp: What is involved in “banking” an animal's genes? What tissue samples are taken?

bc: A client has his or her regular veterinarian remove a small skin sample (about the size of a pencil eraser) from the animal's belly or from the inside of its mouth. The sample is sent to GSC in the BioBox, which is a kit specially designed for the safe transport of the material. At GSC, the sample is cultured for about a month to ensure that the cells are viable. Then it's cryopreserved in liquid nitrogen, where it can remain indefinitely.

pp: What kinds of animals can be “banked”, currently?

bc: Our company will gene bank any mammal other than humans. We do not intend to gene bank humans, and our Code of Bioethics specifies that we will not share data, personnel, or resources with any human cloning efforts.

pp: Using CC's case as an example, clones don't look like their donors (see photo). Why is this? Is this expected to be the case with dogs, as well?

bc: Actually most clones look very much like their genetic donors. Like identical twins, they have various physical differences, but are also highly similar. On a multi-color animal, however, the size, shape, and position of markings are influenced by factors other than genetics. And in the case of calico cats (like CC's genetic donor, Rainbow) there's an additional phenomenon known as X-linked inactivation (more info).

pp: How is the testing of cloning Missy (see photo, left) going? Are you close to being able to do this?

bc: It's sort of like the story of the watched pot that won't boil. To those who eagerly await our success in cloning Missy, progress seems quite slow (as is often the case in scientific research). We do believe we're close to success, but that could mean three months or three years.

pp: How many years, realistically, can dog owners expect to wait until commercial dog cloning is available?

bc: Once we've succeeded in cloning Missy, we'll still have to refine the technology so we know we can clone dogs safely and consistently. So even if we clone Missy by the end of this year, we probably wouldn't offer commercial dog cloning for another year after that.

pp: What is in the future for Genetic Savings and Clone? What sort of advances and additional services can we expect in ten, or twenty years?

bc: Ten or 20 years is a long time. Ten years ago nobody had heard of the World Wide Web, and look at how it's changed our lives! I like to think GSC will be providing commercial pet cloning services to the general public. I hope by that time we've used cloning to contribute to the preservation of endangered species, and that we've improved the stock of assistance and rescue dogs. By that time we may also be able to safely do transgenic (gene-changing) work, so that (for example) if a client wants to clone a dog that's genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia, we can prevent that predisposition from being transferred to the clone.

Still not sure? More information is available here:

  • HowStuffWorks - How does cloning work?
  • GSC - General FAQ
  • GSC - Ethics FAQ

For more information, visit the Genetic Savings and Clone site or learn more about The Missyplicity Project.

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