Twenty-five years ago, a sheep named Dolly was at the center of a media frenzy for being the first animal to be cloned using an adult somatic cell. The experiment was motivated by the thirst for knowledge on how to make stem cells that would one day be used in regenerative medicine and pave the way for new treatments for debilitating diseases.
Out of 277 cloned embryos, Dolly was the only baby sheep to be born alive. She gave birth to six babies but sadly died of lung disease six years later. But things in quickly took an even darker and macabre turn with scientists being bombarded with requests to clone dead people while Dolly's body was stuffed and put on display at the National Museum of Scotland.
Many accused scientists of playing god, while others felt that bringing inanimate tissue to life with electricity felt eerily reminiscent of Mary Shelley's classic novel Frankenstein. Fast forward to the present day, and pet cloning is now entering the mainstream, with people paying around $35,000 to clone their cat or $50,000 to create an exact genetic copy of their dog.
The rise of pet cloning
Most of us have experienced the pain of losing our family pet. However, an increasing number of pet owners who refuse to let go are finding the concept of creating an identical version before they leave us to be incredibly appealing. Celebrities from Barbara Streisand to Simon Cowell have further sparked pet cloning trends after reports of spending over 100,000 on cloning their dogs.
ViaGen Pets has been developing cloning and reproductive technology for more than 15 years. The process involves extracting a DNA sample from your pet and inserting it into a surrogate. But once again, it ignites the age-old debate of whether it's nature or is it nurture that creates the personality of your favorite pet.
The problem with creating a genetic twin of your pet is that everything you love about your dog or cat is not dictated by its DNA. Animals are not objects, and each will have its own unique personality and amusing quirks. All of which will be shaped by their environment and the time you spend with them. These are the moments where we develop the connections with our furry friends, not in a lab.
There are currently 3.1 million dogs and 3.2 million cats in animal shelters in the US alone. So, there is a strong argument that animal lovers could make a real difference by investing their time and money in providing a good home and playing a role in reducing the homeless-animal overpopulation crisis. But the biggest problem is normalizing replacing a pet with a genetic twin is where it will lead to.
Where do we go from here?
When trying to get over losing a loved one, cloning is the exact opposite thing anyone should consider. In 2022, pet owners who cannot live without their lost pets have the option of creating a clone. But could it risk making human cloning a short leap away? Could we be heading for a Black Mirror-style scenario where a heartbroken parent is desperate to restore the physical and spiritual connection of losing a son or daughter with a clone?
It's not as far-fetched as you might think. Earlier this year, surgeons at the University of Maryland School of Medicine famously transplanted a pig heart into a man with terminal heart disease. Despite making ten human genetic modifications, the patient only survived for two months. Scientists are only just making progress from the lessons they learned from cloning a sheep called Dolly. But opening the future possibility of harvesting organs from a clone or creating genetic twins of our pets should be raising serious ethical concerns.
The actual cost of moving fast and breaking things
We have already witnessed the implications of big tech moving fast and breaking things in a digital age. For example, what started as a cloning experiment of a sheep in the name of advancing modern medicine has now brought the cloning of pets into the mainstream. But if we have reached the point of no return, we should progress with extreme caution.
With cloning technology already unleashed on the world, many futurists are concerned that we are unwittingly taking a dystopian path that could normalise the creation of clones for medical spare parts, replacing lost loved ones, designer babies, or even the creation of military cannon fodder. However, the reality is that cloning technology is much more controversial and complicated for anyone to comprehend fully.
Our proverbial Pandora's box has been opened, and there is no going back. What started as a well-intended mission of developing new treatments for rheumatism and heart disease has somehow turned into the cloning of dead pets. Without considering the medical and ethical implications of cloning anything, we are merely children playing with a range of dangerous toys.