RNL Bio, a Seoul-based biotech firm, recently received its first order from a woman in California. The product is a genetic clone of her dead dog, Booger. The price of the firm’s services is $150,000.
Lee Byeong-chun leads the South Korean research team. He is a former associate of the now-disgraced Hwang Woo-suk, who was once a rock star in the scientific community for several reported breakthroughs including the creation of human embryonic stem cells by cloning. Most of his findings were eventually found to be fabricated or false, and he has since been dismissed from his professorship at Seoul National University. Byeong-chun, however, has already succeeded in cloning several dogs and a wolf. His team’s next task will be to clone the beloved pit bull from some preserved ear tissue.
Creating a canine clone involves extracting a nucleus from the dog’s preserved cell and inserting it into an egg cell whose nucleus has been removed. The egg is then implanted into a surrogate mother and brought to term. Many surrogate mothers may be required to clone one dog. It took hundreds of surrogates and many miscarriages to create Dolly the sheep. Technically, the dog will not be an exact clone of the original, since its mitochondrial DNA will not be the same, and other factors that affect its early physical development will not be dependent on the nuclear DNA. However, the vast majority of the genetically heritable traits will be copied, or cloned.
Will the new puppy intrinsically remember its owner? Will the dogs necessarily look exactly alike? Will the dog have all of the traits that made it so lovable? The answer is no. A developing puppy receives stimuli from its environment that affect how curious, inquisitive, loving, obedient and intelligent the dog becomes. All of these traits arguably have a genetic component, but environmental factors also have a significant impact. Serious variability could occur, and the new dog may not act at all like the original.
There is also the ill-understood paradox of aging in cloned animals. Many scientists have voiced concerns about the clones’ shorter life spans. The process that creates the clone may also lead to subtle or not-so subtle defects later in life. The number of attempts it takes to create one viable clone is indicative of the rough process employed. Some postulate that Dolly’s early death and various health problems are lingering side effects of her artificial inception.
A clone may differ significantly from how the original was perceived and remembered. It is fanciful to think that science could fill the emotional niche left by a loved one. Sometimes it is best to let the spirit and the memory of the dead rest in peace. Don’t give the dog a clone.
Ryon Graf is a fourth-year genetics major. He can be reached at email@example.com.