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Is Cloning for the Dogs?

scan0003-24Lancey crosses his front paws and tries to snatch bagels off the counter, just like his predecessor.

Lancey’s human mother, Nina Otto, isn’t completely sure if the counter antics stem from puppy behavior or from the DNA he was cloned from. The 7-month-old Lancelot Encore is a clone of Lancelot, a yellow Labrador Retriever who died in 2008.

“He seems to be 99 percent there,” Otto said.

Lancelot was one of a handful of dogs in the United States that has been cloned. Trakr, the late Sept. 11 rescue dog, was the latest canine to be cloned. Trakr’s handler James Symington met with Trakr’s five puppy replicas recently. Symington won a contest from a biotechnology company to have a dog cloned for free.

While Symington romped on camera with Trakr’s clones, the debate over the ethics of cloning pets re-ignited. Cloning companion animals leads to suffering and is unnecessary, said Kathleen Conlee, spokeswoman for animal research issues for the Humane Society of the United States.

“It devalues the life of the animal,” Conlee said. “It’s kind of like treating the animal like an object.”

trakr2Otto said there would never be another Lancelot who she described as a sweet dog who could sense when his humans needed comforting.

“I just extended his life by having some dog very similar to him,” Nina Otto said. “You don’t really replace dogs. You love them and everything. It’s a wonderful feeling to have that connection … It’s like having an old friend again.”

That’s one of the reasons why clients want to clone pets, wrote Lou Hawthorne, CEO of BioArts International, the company that cloned Lancelot and Trakr. Some people want new animals as similar as possible to their beloved companion or a creature directly related to their pet.

Genes influence far more than appearance of the animal, Hawthorne wrote in an e-mail. Clones will have the same genetic predisposition to health, longevity, strength and agility, intelligence and temperament as well, he wrote. So clones will exhibit behaviors similar to the original animal.

Conlee said a cloned animal won’t inherit the original pet’s personality. Those traits come from the relationships the pet makes, she said. Humane Society officials say cloning companies are capitalizing on animal lovers’ grief over losing a companion and charge exorbitant fees to for gene banking and cloning.

The Ottos paid $155,000 to clone Lancelot after Hawthorne took bids from dog parents.

lancey2“It was a lot of money,”  said Nina Otto. “But I said, ‘There are people who have that money and spend it on other things … like cars … foolish things.’ At the time the economy was not that bad.”

Nina Otto added she and her husband didn’t need another dog–they have eight children, 11 grandchildren, and 10 dogs. Ed Otto owns a medical equipment company and his father was an early NASCAR promoter. But the Florida couple cried for weeks after Lancelot died of complications from cancer in 2008.

Nina Otto and her husband Ed Otto adored the neutered Lancelot and about six years ago they discussed replicating him with Hawthorne, who at that time ran a company called Genetic Savings and Clone, a company that cloned pet cats. The technology to clone dogs wasn’t available at that time because dogs are the hardest mammal to clone since it’s harder to predict ovulation in canines. So the Ottos took a tissue sample from Lancelot and froze it in a gene bank until scientists had a method to clone dogs.

Then in 2005, Dr. Hwang Woo Suk and a team of scientists in South Korea cloned the the first dog, an Afghan Hound named Snuppy. But Hwang gained notoriety in 2004 for fraudulently reporting he successfully cloned human embryos and stem cells.

Hwang‘s accomplishments in dog cloning have been verified, Hawthorne said. The Mill Valley resident trusted Hwang enough to have him clone his mother’s treasured Border Collie-Husky mix named Missy who died in 2002.

“Missy was an exceptional dog in many ways,” Hawthorne wrote in an e-mail. “My family agreed it would be wonderful to have another dog of the same breed, but as a spayed mutt of unknown parentage, Missy was basically a ‘breed of one.’”

Hawthorne had Hwang clone Missy and the result was four puppies. Mira, the oldest clone, lives with Hawthorne. All four dogs possess the intelligence, playfulness and beauty Missy had, Hawthorne said. The “Missyplicty Project,” was the start of BioArts. Hawthorne re-organized Genetics Savings and Clone under BioArts and forged an arrangement with Hwang’s laboratory to produce clones for BioArts. He also started a subsidiary of BioArts, Encore Pet Science.

missy2Hawthorne said a dog is needed to provide the DNA, give an unfertilized egg and bring the pregnancy to term. Hypothetically, the same dog could be used for each step but scientists choose to use different dogs, Hawthorne added.

Nuclear DNA from the original dog is fused with an unfertilized egg stripped of DNA then begins to grow and divide. The fertilized egg is implanted in the surrogate mother. As a result, creating clones requires many animals, according to a report by the American Anti-Vivisection Society and the Humane Society.

Animals used to produce clones are kept in small laboratory cages and are subjected to surgeries and hormone treatments, according to the report. No one regulates American and South Korean cloning laboratories to make sure they are treating animals humanely, Conlee said. The United States Department of Agriculture doesn’t require cloning laboratories to follow the Animal Welfare Act, she said. The report stated that it’s not possible to know exactly how many animals are used and what happens to them during cloning experiments except for what little is reported in scientific literature.

Researchers for the pet cloning report studied scientific papers from 2002 to 2008 and learned 530 dogs and cats were used to make 16 clones, Conlee said. An experiment to clone a 14-year-old toy poodle involved 66 dogs and about 18 cloned embryos that were surgically implanted into 20 dogs, according to a Humane Society report. Two of the dogs became pregnant but one successfully carried it to term, according to the report. The resulting puppies had a chromosome feature similar to the older dog, which raised concerns that clones of older animals will age prematurely.

Conlee said there has been no long-term study that follows the health of clone dogs because they’re so young still.

Nina Otto said she had seen a picture of Lancey’s surrogate mother, an Irish Retriever, and the dog appeared healthy.

Hawthorne disputed concerns about premature aging in clones, writing those worries stem from the untimely death of the cloned sheep Dolly. Dolly died from a respiratory infection, not premature aging, Hawthorne wrote.

He added that the health of cloned animals varies by species method and practioneer. A critical step for good results is sending tissue from the genetic donor in a temperature-controlled shipper and using a skilled team, Hawthorne wrote.

A few of Missy’s puppy clones died of parvo which is a virus present in well-managed kennels, Hawthorne wrote. Some clones from a specific marginal cell line were also lost. But Hawthorne, wrote, all of existing Missy clones are doing well.

Humane Society officials wonder why people want to clone their pets when millions of cats and dogs languish in shelters.

missy3Nina Otto said that she has donated thousands of dollars to the Tri County Humane Society in Florida and even bought them a van when society members rescued pets lost in Hurricane Katrina.

Hawthorne wrote that homeless pet advocates who rail against cloning end up alienating the people who can help them. Missy, he wrote, was from a shelter. Each of Missy’s clones lives in different homes and developed some distinct behaviors. MissyToo, lives with Hawthorne’s mother, the owner of the original Missy.

Hawthorne’s mother refused to comment on what it’s like to have a Missy twin.

“My own view is that she enjoys MissyToo, but her heart belongs to another dog,” Hawthorne wrote.

Would you ever clone your dog? What are your thoughts about cloning pets? Post your thoughts here.

Audrey Wong

Audrey is a Southern California native who makes kissy faces at dogs. When she was growing up, she aspired to be a biologist or veterinarian, but ended up writing instead. She has lived all over California and penned animal stories whenever possible. In her free time, she's at the beach or her favorite coffee house.

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July 21, 2009 By : Category : DOG NEWS Tags:
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