Cloned dogs and cats have been in the news quite a bit. A company named BioArts recently cloned a deceased dog named Missy. The dog had belonged to an elderly billionaire named John Sperling. Here is an excerpt from an article in The Independent that discussed the matter.
Utterly devoted to his mongrel dog Missy, a three-quarters Border collie and a quarter Siberian husky mix, the 87-year-old set about pouring millions of his own money into research that could one day help reunite owners with their deceased pets.
The last few words of the above quote say a great deal about the misconceptions surrounding cloning. Many people for some reason believe that a cloned pet will be identical to the original. This absolutely is not true.
Cloned animals are genetically identical (with the exception of a form of genetic material called mitochondrial DNA) to the originals. This does not mean that the appearance, behavior, or temperament of cloned individuals will be identical. In fact, the clone may bear little resemblance to the original in many of these regards.
Many things besides genetics play a role in the development of personality and appearance. The environment inside the uterus, nutrition after birth and exposure to other elements in the outside world all shape individuals. It is completely unrealistic to expect a cloned animal to be identical to the original in every, or even any way.
Nonetheless, plenty of people are willing to pay heavily for cloned animals. And, as the Fall, 2008 issue of UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine News reports, Missy’s clones were legitimate. From the report:
[T]he school’s experts were the ones who confirmed that the animals were indeed clones of Missy, a dog that died in 2002. The [Veterinary Genetics Laboratory’s] parentage testing laboratory used a canine-specific panel of 24 DNA markers to confirm that Missy’s nuclear DNA was present in each of the clones . . . Missy’s mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is another factor.
Cloned pets are now a reality. But are they really necessary?