How Much is that Clone in the Window?

February 19, 2008 at 5:41 am 10 comments

A South Korean biotechnology company has received its first order to clone a dog. The company states that if the project is successful, they plan to begin regular commercial production next year.

Am I the only one who gets the creeps when I read that?

I mean I am DEEPLY, STUPIDLY in love with my dogs.  I spend countless hours of time and many thousands of dollars on their training, care and recreation.  My interest in dogs has gone well beyond eccentric and may, in fact, push the boundaries of obsession – but I can not imagine plunking down $150,000 for a replication of even my most beloved dog.

doggieinthewindow.jpg

It’s just wrong.

The sleeping beast at my feet isn’t a simple expression of the genes he inherited.  To paraphrase B.F. Skinner, “he is a locus, a point at which many genetic and environmental conditions come together in a joint effect.” 

My dog is utterly unique.  The thoughts, senses and experiences of his nine months on this earth have as much to do with who and what he is as the genes that created his lovely body.  A dog is not a commodity that can be factory-produced to exacting specifications. Dogs are living beings, and even when one considers them at the scale of littermates, each is as unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint.

“The cloning of humans dogs is on most of the lists of things to worry about from science, along with behavior control, genetic engineering, transplanted heads, computer poetry and the unrestrained growth of plastic flowers.”
-Lewis Thomas

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Fuzzy Logic  |  February 20, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    Just goes to show that for many people a dog is at best, a single dimensional creature or at worst an accessory.

    Sure I could clone my dogs, but they wouldn’t BE my dogs…I’d much rather allow a new beastie into my life than to try and hold on to one who has passed on…

  • 2. Border Wars - Christopher  |  February 20, 2008 at 8:27 pm

    What’s worse, cloning a perfectly good dog or inbreeding the descendants of that dog with each other or even with the original dog in an effort to create more dogs that are substantially similar to the original dog.

    I don’t fear cloning at all. It’s a marvelous science and despite being in a crude stage of development now, it holds much promise in many areas of our future, including our frivolous attachment to pets.

    What really scares me is what thousands of breeders do every single day to approximate the advantages cloning gives us. Mainly, excessive (and IMO any instance at all is excessive) inbreeding.

    Many zoos now have such small populations of certain rare animals that inbreeding is a necessity. Cloning offers an alternative that will maintain every ounce of genetic diversity that currently exists. Even normal reproduction in healthy populations invariably leads to loss of genetic information.

    For instance, one child maintains only half the information of 2 people. Since the process is random, even if those people have 2 children, they’ve only increased the information saved to about 75% since there is likely to be as much overlap as new information saved. A single clone carries 100%.

    Now most of this information isn’t special and simply a repeat of lots of common genes that we all carry and that all life carries, but we are finding out every day that single genes have major impacts and for those very special genes that are unique and powerful, it is important that we keep as many different copies of them around as possible.

    Cloning allows for that. Inbreeding works against that, and even natural reproduction is a lossy process.

  • 3. SmartDogs  |  February 20, 2008 at 9:13 pm

    First, I’d argue that there is no such thing as a “perfectly healthy” dog.

    Second, your logic in comparing the, possibly(?) necessary cloning of endangered species to the cloning of dogs seems flawed. Dogs are in no danger of extinction — as long as PETA and HSUS don’t have their way, so we don’t really need to clone them to keep the species viable. Comparing them to Cheetahs seems to be a sweeping generalization

    Third, I’m completely with you on the issue of inbreeding. Health, temperament and working abilitly are the only issues important to me and I am not a supporter of AKC or their canine eugenics programs.

    That said, how can you view cloning as a better alternative? With cloning you have no genetic variation – unless you play God and genetically engineer the creature.

    And I find that idea even scarier. As a species, we are not ready to play God.

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by to chat. I enjoy hearing from folks who disagree with me.

  • 4. Border Wars - Christopher  |  February 24, 2008 at 7:58 am

    I don’t think there is a perfectly healthy dog or human either, and I didn’t mean that by “perfectly good.”

    My point is that cloning is no different ethically than making a breeding decision. In fact, it removes all of the guess work. You are simply making a copy of an existing being.

    In terms of “playing God” making a clone is just like making another batch of God’s recipe instead of making your own recipe. I say that making your own recipe is more meddling and “playing God” than making another batch of something God has already made.

    There’s a natural suspicion around cloning because you can’t do it in your basement… it involves science (scary!) and scientists (mad men!). Even inbreeding feels more “natural” because it’s easy and anyone can do it. It’s no different than sex.

    But cloning is not the same thing as playing God. Or if it is, it’s no more so than any breeding program. Choosing which two animals to mate is playing God for the HOPE of getting something you want in an offspring.

    Cloning is not really any different except you replace HOPE with guarantee.

    This has its advantages in the breeding world.

    (1) You can keep a successful stud “alive” longer or bring one back from the past.

    (2) You can clone a particularly valuable female that otherwise would only be bred once or twice. In horses, dogs, etc., the influence of the males is way over representative to the females, simply because the male contribution is a few minutes and a single male can father hundreds of offspring per year, whereas even if you breed a female every time, you’re lucky to get 10-20 offspring a year for animals that have litters, even fewer in animals that carry single children.

    Cloning can help battle the “popular sire” effect where one male dominates the gene pool by being breed too often.

    (3) A lot of the time, when people make the most stupid breeding choices, they are trying to replicate the advantages cloning gives you, but since they can’t clone, they do what they can, and that’s inbreed.

    When breeders “double up” or “line breed” or inbreed, they are first and foremost trying to recreate a great dog, the dog that they are doubling up on. They want as much of that dog’s genes in their litter as possible.

    They could get their wish and have 100% in all the offspring if they cloned instead of inbred.

    Inbreeding is what ruins breeds. It might be inbreeding for a certain coat color, or inbreeding for a certain skull shape, or inbreeding for an outstanding ability in some activity. But it’s the act of inbreeding that does the damage, not the reason the inbreeding was done.

    Genetic engineering actually offers many many more advantages than the current “tools.”

    For instance, lets say that you want a lilac border collie. This particular color is so rare that there’s really only one BC ancestor that is known to have had this mutation and so any current BCs with that color are going to be decedents of that one dog.

    You can inbreed to get there, hoping that you’ll make enough of those alleles homozygous so that you’re guaranteed to pass that trait along. This also doubles up on a ton of other genes that you’d rather were not doubled up on.

    Or, you can find that gene that causes that color and introduce it into an egg from a line of dogs that is unrelated, and now you’ve introduced that gene without having to inbreed, without having to fundamentally mess up the rest of the genome.

    Sure, that is playing God, but so is trying to get that gene to show up in the first place. Under one scenario, you get your result and don’t botch the rest of the genes, in the other, you’ve created a frankendog trying to get that one gene to be more prevalent.

    Genetic engineering and cloning isn’t the answer for ALL breeding choices, but they are MUCH MUCH MUCH better decisions for those instances (which are very popular in people breeding for looks, breeding for color, breeding for the next great working champion, the next great agility champion, the next show ring champion, etc) where the other action of choice is inbreeding.

    We are playing God, the question is whether we’re doing it with a fine scalpel or dynamite. Precision or crude butchery.

  • 5. kabbage  |  February 24, 2008 at 3:06 pm

    Even if you can successfully clone the physical dog, I don’t believe you can clone the soul. If you don’t believe dogs have souls, I guess that wouldn’t be a problem, but for those looking to clone a much-beloved pet, what is going to happen when their cloned puppy doesn’t grow up to be their original? I think some of those owners will resent their new dogs. Heck, if the original dog has unique markings, the clone may not even look exactly like the original. Identical twin (known to be from the same amniotic sac) puppies aren’t even always identical. See http://www.ashgi.org/color/twins.htm for pictures of a pair of identical twins. They’re similar, but you can see they are different even without really intensely studying them.

  • 6. Audie's Gramma  |  February 26, 2008 at 6:27 am

    On the topic of cloning an individual (as opposed to resurrecting a genetic specimen:

    http://www.thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1087

    Listen to Act 2: If By Chance We Meet Again

    ‘Nuff said.

  • 7. SmartDogs  |  March 3, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    And this as well:

    http://www.newuniversity.org/checkDB.php?id=6654

  • 8. Dan  |  June 5, 2009 at 1:20 am

    And here I was, considering cloning my dog! Jeez, after hearing all you experts on the subject i guess I will just put away my emotional ties to my dog that I want a copy of and GO TO THE POUND. Oh, but WAIT!!! I didn’t go to the pound to get my dog in the first place. I BOUGHT him. Stupid me, I paid for a dog!

    AND I LOVE HIM!

    you idiots

  • 9. SmartDogs  |  June 5, 2009 at 2:01 am

    Well gutless, anonymous Dan with the stoopid fake email addy – no-one here damned people who buy purebred dogs. In fact, at least two of the commenters here breed purbred dogs – I know ’cause I bought one of my purebred dogs from her.

    And if you really want to a clone – go for it. It’s your money.

  • 10. H. Houlahan  |  June 6, 2009 at 2:30 pm

    Ha ha ha ha ha.

    Cowardly Dan is sooo in love with his dog as a unique and special sentient being, he wants a copy of it. Like, maybe a backup on an external drive.

    How’s the darling wife doing, Dan?

    Looking a bit worn around the edges yet?

    I have a solution for you!

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