Will pet cloning one day be common? Jim Axelrod reports.
CC, short for Carbon Copy, is the world’s first cloned cat, born last December.
“She’s perfectly healthy. She’s a playful, normal happy little kitten,” says Lou Hawthorne, CEO of Genetic Savings and Clone, the California company that spent millions of dollars to produce the clone.
It took 87 tries to produce CC – so there’s a lot more research to be done. But Hawthorne is convinced that once the kinks are out, the practice will be widespread.
He may be right: Thousands of people across the country, like Debbie Thieme of McKeesport, Pennsylvania are already lining up for the chance to someday replicate their pets – both cats and dogs. Debbie hopes to clone not just one beloved dog – but an entire pack.
Debbie, an intensive care nurse, has decided to preserve skin samples from all four of her dogs, and store them for the day when science will allow her to produce exact genetic duplicates of them.
Researchers have also cloned sheep, cows, goats, mice, and pigs. But cloning a dog is more complicated and may still be a few years down the road.
“The dog essentially cycles once a year, so that gives only one opportunity to collect eggs or to transfer embryos,” says Richard Denniston, founder of Lazaron Biotechnologies, another company that stands to make a mint if and when pet cloning becomes big business.
In Debbie’s case, that bond is strong enough to spend about $1,000 each time she freezes a sample of skin cells from one of her dogs. Though actually producing a clone someday – could cost tens of thousands of dollars.
Are these companies playing God? “I don’t see it that way. We’ve been manipulating genetics for centuries,” says Denniston.
While Denniston may not think he’s pushing the ethical envelope, Dr. Arthur Caplan, who runs the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, does: “While we’ve seen cloned animals, pigs, sheep and mice, a lot of them will end up dead or deformed.”
Says Caplan: “The world is full of animals that nobody wants. It’s not like we can’t find homeless dogs and cats out there.”
But Debbie will let others debate science and ethics. Her only hope is to never face life without her pack.