Clone Your Best Friend?

The neighborhood Cat. If he had a clone, it would be genetically identical, but might have a very different personality. Photo by author.

The neighborhood cat. If he had a clone, it would be genetically identical, but might have a very different personality. Photo by author.

We love our pet’s quirks and habits: Fiesty the cat likes to rest on top of the printer where its warm, but her weak stomach sometimes makes her barf into it. Buster the lab is the perfect dog. He loves to go everywhere with you, even the vet, and he eats everything and anything, even the nasty pills the vet gives him. We want them to be healthy and live as long as we do, but their lifespans just aren’t the same as ours.

Last week I blogged about a drug that might keep your dog alive and healthier longer and I asked, if you could keep your pet alive as long as you live, would you do it? Let’s say the pet will remain the same even as you age. The only thing that might change is the number of times your pet is cloned.

Cloning is not impossible. In 2001, Copycat (AKA Carbon Copy, or CC for short), was born at Texas A&M. She was the first ever cloned pet. It was confirmed that she was genetically identical, but CC’s donor, Rainbow, was a calico with brown, white, and orange patches over a white coat. CC has a white coat with grey patches. CC is sleek and playful where her original was reserved and chubby. Are they the same cat?

They had the same genes in the petri dish, but during fetal development, things changed. Some of Rainbow’s genes may have been activated in CC when others weren’t. CC’s surrogate mother’s stress and prenatal nutrition could have altered her brain development. After birth, CC’s environment and interaction with others shaped her personality.

Up to now, cloned pets have been rare. In CC’s case, researchers made about 80 attempts to clone their research cats. Only one resulted in live birth. Yet people will be willing to pay to have their pets cloned, dead or alive, and someday the sucess rate is bound to rise and the cost to fall.

I wouldn’t want to clone a pet, but I would find it interesting to study cloned pets. It might give some insight into the role of nature and nurture, but what about the down sides?

Will owners of cloned pets be let down if the clone doesn’t actually look or behave like the original?

What about all the pets in shelters that could be adopted instead?

Finally, maybe our pet’s short lifespans make them more precious to us. If you knew Old Yeller could be replaced by New Yeller, would you appreciate either dog as much?

 

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