Anyone with pets suffers from the mere thought of losing their best friend. Over the years, the friendship established between the teacher and the pet has become inseparable, and it is not uncommon for the animal to occupy the position of companion No. 1, intertwined even in relationships between humans. Thus, the pain of leaving can be excruciating. What is new is that thanks to technological advances in recent years, it has become possible to alleviate the suffering of dying dogs or cats. Unprecedented advances in cloning have led genetics companies to specialize in creating genetically identical copies of pets, giving rise to an industry that is as innovative as it is controversial.
One of the biggest advocates in this field is the American ViaGen, which offers the service of cloning dogs, cats and horses. Generally, scientists take samples from live pets and then grow the cells in a laboratory through artificial processes until they develop into an embryo (Look on the board). It is then carried around for some time to obtain a 100% faithful copy, at least genetically, of the original pet. To clone a dog, it takes ViaGen eight months. Cats – whose conventional wisdom says they have seven lives – are more work, and require at least a year to complete the process. The cost is also high: 240,000 riyals for dogs and 167,000 riyals for cats. Don’t be intimidated by values. The company has a waiting list of teachers willing to hire the service. Although the company does not reveal the exact number of clones, the business has doubled in the past five years.
This phenomenon is not limited to the United States. Companies such as Sooam Biotech, of South Korea, and Sinogene, of China, are also active in domestic cloning. In videos on TikTok, many users appear day in and day out with cloned pets. In Brazil, this practice is still not allowed. But in January, the House Committee on Environment and Sustainable Development approved a bill regulating the search, production and sale of cloned pets. Currently, only animals of particular interest to animal husbandry can be copied – cows, sheep, horses, pigs, rabbits and birds, among others – but licensing for pets is already under discussion.
The theme is cool, but it is necessary to make a caveat: although the animals from the clone are biologically identical, the clone will not have the same temperament as the original pet. If the owner’s goal is to “revive” a pet that has died, he will likely be frustrated with the process. Science knows that the environment in which the animal was raised and the various experiences throughout life shape its character. This means that a pet has a playful behavior that can lead, for example, to the appearance of an aggressive version.
It should be noted that the same rule applies to so-called monozygotic twins, genetically identical humans. “Cloning is like a twin brother,” confirms Marcelo Demarche Guises, a professor in the Department of Animal Reproduction in the University of the South Pacific’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Sciences. “Twins, even those who have been exposed to very similar developmental conditions, have different behaviours, each individually.” In the case of animals of certain breeds, there is a spectrum of expected behavior, but no exact copy can be obtained.
Ethical issues should be added to the discussion. What if families wanted to clone their loved ones? To what extent is this morally acceptable? What are the risks involved in mass-producing clones? Science does not have definitive answers to such questions, and they are sure to gain size in the coming years. However, there are more promising possibilities. Since the British John Gordon discovered a way to clone African frogs in the 1950s, and especially after the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal in history to be cloned from an adult cell, in 1996, scientists have not stopped looking at the topic. The path being plotted is the revitalization of a nearly extinct species by cloning the few specimens that are still alive. It’s a real, if terrifying possibility, synonymous with the fascinating – and sometimes controversial – science adventure.
Published in VEJA April 6, 2022, Issue No. 2783