Pet cloning - is it viable and ethical?

Pet cloning - is it viable and ethical?

Health & Safety

The idea of cloning might seem to be a very alien concept to most people, or at least something very futuristic and abstract. But cloning is more of a present day reality than many people expect, and it is in fact theoretically, apparently possible to clone existing, privately owned pets, even within the UK. But even if you are in mourning for a much beloved pet, or wish that you could keep your current pet with you forever, would you really genuinely consider the possibility of cloning, even with financial considerations put to one side?

Read on to learn more about pet cloning and the modern realities of it.

What is cloning?

The phrase “cloning” refers to the biological process of producing a genetically identical copy of another living thing; be that a plant, animal, or even a person. Cloning may occur naturally in some species, and in fact may be an important part of the natural reproductive system of some plants and animals.

However, the type of cloning that we are referring to in this article is artificially planned and scientifically engineered cloning, performed deliberately by scientists. Cloning involves copying the DNA sequence of the animal or plant in question, and using it to create a brand new but genetically identical copy of the original. It may sound like science fiction, but today, it is actually science fact!

How is cloning performed?

“Dolly the cloned sheep” first came into public awareness in the UK in 1997, as the first successfully cloned animal. There are two different procedures that can be followed in order to clone an animal: Somatic cell nuclear transfer, and artificial embryo twinning. Understandably and as the names imply, both of these processes are very technically complicated, but to explain them in their most basic terms:

Somatic cell nuclear transfer involves transferring the nucleus, or “brain” of a cell, the part responsible for the potential and growth of the cell, into another unrelated cell. The cells used for the extraction of the nucleus are known as somatic cells, cells that contain two full copies of the body’s chromosomes.

Artificial embryo twinning involves an embryo cell being separated into many further individual cells in a petri dish, to produce multiple copies of one embryo. This process is less high-tech than somatic cell nuclear transfer, and mimics the natural process by which cells divide in order to produce identical twins.

Can you have your own pet cloned?

Although cloning has many moral and ethical aspects to it, technically today you could realistically have your own pet cloned, if you had the money to be able to do so! Animal cloning is legal within the UK, with a few caveats, and cloning services can be purchased commercially. The first company offering a cloning service within the UK began advertising itself in October 2013, after successfully cloning several pets for owners within America. However, the company cautions pet owners that a cloned copy of their current pet will not be an exact replica in terms of personality and the core traits of the original animal. Rather, any cloned animal that is produced will display variables in terms of temperament, mood and personality in the same way that you would expect differences to develop between respective identical twins.

Currently, the price of having a pet cloned is outside of the reach of most pet lovers, being in the region of £65,000 for a dog! Cloning is not a foolproof, guaranteed or exact science either, however; not all embryos produced by cloning will be viable or able to be delivered successfully, and the cloning company cautions owners about the risk that their expectations of their ultimate clone of a much loved pet might not match the reality.

Ethical considerations

Cloning and any other processes that involve the artificial manipulation of genes and DNA are not without their ethical considerations, and cloning has certainly attracted a great deal of controversy over the years.

One of the most commonly criticised elements of cloning is the fact that many pet owners incorrectly believe that their newly cloned copy of an old pet will be a carbon copy of the old one, and may be disappointed to find that it is not.

Added to this, there is always the consideration that artificially manipulating genes and the natural process of birth and reproduction is inherently wrong, and not for humanity to interfere with. Also, it is often frowned upon by virtue of the fact that consciously choosing to clone a pet means that a home is essentially removed from an existing animal that might be in need of a new home.

However, cloning also has some positive wider implications for animal lovers, particularly in the case of rare and endangered breeds, which might be protected from extinction by cloning and have their numbers boosted to keep the breed viable in perpetuity.

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