We Can Clone Pet Dogs. But Is That a Good Idea

Barbra Streisand's cloned dogs recently made headlines, but the process has been available to the high-paying public for over a decade.

In her career, singer and actress Barbra Streisand has rarely settled for second best. When her beloved dog Samantha died last year—a 14-year-old Coton du Tulear—she followed suit by having her cloned.

In an interview with Variety, Streisand reveals cells taken from Samantha's mouth and stomach were used to make two clones—named Miss Scarlett and Miss Violet. (Photos of the dogs can be seen on Streisand's Instagram.)

Variety quotes the stage icon and Oscar winner as saying: “They have different personalities... I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness.”

Few additional details are given about why Streisand wanted to clone her dogs or where they were made, but if you have about $100,000, it's a feasible option for any pet owner. Companies like Sooam Biotech in South Korea and ViaGen in Texas offer the service to the high-paying public. Whether or not you should clone your dog, however, remains debated.

HOW ARE DOG CLONES MADE?

Producing one cloned dog requires several additional dogs to help bring it to life.

In an interview with Scientific American, author of a book on dog cloning John Woestendiek explained the process:

"In addition to the tissue sample of the original dog, cloners will need to harvest egg cells from dogs in heat—maybe a dozen or so. And, after zapping the merged cells with electricity so they start dividing, they’ll need surrogate mother dogs, to carry the puppies to birth."

During the process, the nucleus is removed from the original donor's eggs and injected with material from the animal to be cloned.

On their websites, both Sooam Biotech and ViaGen confirm that live births are used to create their clones. It takes about 60 days after injection with the cloned embryo for dogs to be born, sometimes by cesarean section surgery.

HOW SIMILAR ARE THEY?

Cloned animals contain the exact same genes as their donor but might have slight variations in how these genes are expressed. Markings or eye colour, for example, could differ.

Personality-wise, it's not surprising that Streisand's dogs behave differently than her original pet. Dog personality is influenced by the environment in which the puppy is born, so it's unlikely that can be replicated in a lab.

ARE THEY HEALTHY?

The FDA monitors cloning of animals like sheep and goats and, according to the agency's website, cloned animals are generally healthy. Dogs, however, have slightly more complicated reproductive systems, making them more difficult to clone.

When dogs were first cloned, scientists were concerned that the clones would age faster than natural-borne dogs. But in most cases, clones have been just as healthy as dogs that aren't cloned.

The first dog clone was created in 2005—an Afghan hound named Snuppy in South Korea.

Snuppy lived to be about 10 years old before she died of cancer. Afghan hounds live for about 11 years.

In 2015, scientists took it one step further by cloning three new puppies from Snuppy. In a paper in the journal Nature about the research, scientists claimed the dogs appeared healthy and normal and would be monitored over the years.

HOW CONTROVERSIAL IS DOG CLONING?

Unlike animals in the agriculture industry, pet cloning is largely unregulated. In 2005, California attempted to pass a bill banning the practice. Officials cited health concerns and worries that animal control would be unmanageable if pet owners turned to clones instead of shelters. The bill was ultimately voted down.

Without oversight, it's difficult to know how many dogs are cloned annually. Some animal advocacy groups, such as the Humane Society, oppose the practice.

“The Humane Society of the United States opposes cloning of any animals for commercial purposes due to major animal welfare concerns. Companies that offer to clone pets profit off of distraught pet lovers by falsely promising a replica of a beloved pet. With millions of deserving dogs and cats in need of a home, pet cloning is completely unnecessary," said Vicki Katrinak, the animal research issues program manager at the society.

Oversight measures proposed by the European Union are also focused only on food.

Sooam Biotech could not be reached at the time of this article's publication and ViaGen declined to comment.

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Lead Image: Barbara Streisand holds her pet dog "Sammie." When Sammie died last year, the singer and actress had two clones made. PHOTOGRAPH BY KMAZUR, WIREIMAGE/GETTY

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