Cloned dogs are in the news again, because two of them, named Cosmo and Retro, are supposedly “terrorizing” the upper west side of Manhattan. According to news reports, Gary Rintel, 45, a self-described “trust-fund layabout,” loved his dog Astro (a short-haired collie/Great Pyrenees mix) so much that he paid $140,000 four years ago to have Astro’s DNA frozen twice. First, he made a hat out of the dog’s fur. Then he cloned two more dogs from Astro, the aforementioned Cosmo and Retro.
Rintel admits that he allows the cloned dogs to romp around Central Park without a leash. “If you were a dog, would you want to live with a rope around your neck?” he told a New York Post reporter. But others say the dogs are running wild, frightening neighbors, running in and out of buildings, and supposedly biting one man who intervened when one of the cloned dogs attacked his black Labrador puppy.
After Dolly the sheep was cloned in 1996, scientists managed to clone numerous other animals, including cats, cows, gaur, horses, mice, mules, pigs, rabbits and rats but were unable to successfully clone a dog – until Snuppy – not to be confused with Snoopy!
The First Cloned Dog: Snuppy
The odd name “Snuppy” was made up from Seoul National University puppy, S-N-U-P-P-Y. A beautiful black and white Afghan hound, Snuppy was born April 24, 2005 in Korea. He is assumed to be the world’s first cloned dog. He was created from the cell of an ear of an adult Afghan hound. More than 120 surrogate mothers were used, but only three became pregnant. One pup was lost in a miscarriage; another pup was born successfully but died of pneumonia three weeks after birth. Snuppy was the only survivor.
Snuppy’s surrogate mother was a golden retriever. So, when an Afghan hound comes out of a golden retriever, you certainly know that someone is tinkering with Mother Nature.
Yet, Snuppy’s origins were almost discredited when the head of the research team, biomedical scientist Hwang Woo-Suk, was later found to have lied about his research on previous projects. However an independent investigation confirmed that Snuppy was a true clone.
Snuppy was named as Time Magazine’s “Most Amazing Invention” of the year in 2005.
Yet there was immediate controversy. The cloning experiment was criticized by Robert Klitzman, director of Columbia University’s Masters in Bioethics program, who cited that the process raised the question as to whether humans are “just a mass of cells and biological processes?”
Ian Wilmut, the scientist behind the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep, said that the successful cloning of Snuppy proved that any mammal could be cloned in the correct environments and that a global ban on human cloning needed to be quickly implemented because of this.
The Kennel Club criticized the entire concept of dog cloning, on the grounds that their mission is: “to promote in every way the general improvement of dogs” and no improvement can occur if replicas are being created.
There seems to be as many proponents of cloning as there are opponents. Some scientists have pointed to the possibility that studies of animal cloning makes transplant research easier. Others mention the ability to study identical animals in order to determine which genes more readily are responsible for the various traits or diseases they might have. Conservationists have also pointed out that cloning may be the only or last resort to save many endangered species.
After Hwang Woo-Suk was dismissed from Seoul National University, veterinary professor Lee Byung-Chun took over leadership of the team. The SNU team, under Lee, has gone on to successfully clone over 30 dogs and 5 wolves. After successfully breeding the cloned wolves, Lee claimed that the ability to breed cloned canines makes it possible for working dogs which are usually sterilized before training, such as drug dogs and guide dogs, to reproduce. SNU, which claims to own the patent for the process used to clone Snuppy, formed a license agreement with a commercial pet cloning company.
Since then, a number of dogs have been cloned. Invariably, and unlike the advertised goal of the SNU team to clone dogs needed for special work (and, we’ve learned, medical research!), most of the clones now requested come from those who grieve the loss of their dog and want to resurrect their beloved companion.
Unfortunately, as numerous reports now attest, the cloned dog may look likes its predecessor, but act very differently from him or her. Science fiction depictions have created the impression that clones emerge fully grown from machines and are indistinguishable from their predecessors. However, while a cloned animal has the same genes as its genetic donor, his or her behavior is influenced by more than genetics. Behavior is also the result of environment and experience.
We can certainly sympathize with those who have lost a beloved pet. In their grief, the possibility of cloning is alluring. Certainly, I have had at least one dog that I would have given everything I own to have again. But would I go so far as to actually clone him? I don’t think so, but . . . .
What are your thoughts? Assuming you had the money, would you clone your dog? Why or why not?