In 2017, the famed singer and actress Barbra Streisand lost her beloved dog Samantha. However, she wasn't ready to give her up completely. So she had her dog cloned.
A clone is a man-made genetic copy of a living creature. When one animal is a clone of another, it is not the same animal, but it has exactly the same genes. It is similar to the way identical twins share the same genes, even though they are two different individuals. Genes are made of DNA, which contains the instructions that determine how a living being grows and develops.
In an interview with Variety magazine, Streisand said cells were taken from Samantha's mouth and stomach. Cells are tiny structures that make up all living organisms. Cells make up tissues, and tissues make up organs.
The cells were used to make two clones named Miss Scarlett and Miss Violet.
"They have different personalities," Streisand said about the dogs. "I'm waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness."
Few additional details are given about why Streisand wanted to clone her dogs or where they were made. However, if you have about $100,000, it's possible for any pet owner. Companies like Sooam Biotech in South Korea and ViaGen in Texas offer the service.
Whether or not you should clone your dog, however, remains debated.
How Are Dog Clones Made?
Producing one cloned dog requires several additional dogs to help bring it to life.
John Woestendiek is an author of a book on dog cloning. In an interview with Scientific American magazine, he explained the process. First, the original dog's tissue is needed. Then, cloners will need to harvest about a dozen egg cells from mother dogs. Next, they zap the combined cells with electricity, Woestendiek said. This way, the cells start dividing. Then, he said, another mother dog, known as a surrogate, is needed to carry the puppies to birth.
During the process, the nucleus is removed from the original donor's eggs. The nucleus is the center of the cell. The nucleus is injected with material from the animal to be cloned.
After the cells combine, it takes about 60 days for dogs to be born. Sometimes the dogs have to be removed from their mother's stomach with surgery.
How Similar Are They?
Cloned animals contain the exact same genes as their donor. However, they might have slight differences in how these genes are expressed. Markings or eye color, for example, could differ.
It's not surprising that Streisand's dogs have different personalities from her original pet. Dog personality is influenced by the environment in which the puppy is born, so it's unlikely that can be exactly copied in a lab.
Are They Healthy?
The Food and Drug Administration is the government group that helps protect public health by analyzing the food and medicines that Americans consume. It also monitors cloning of animals like sheep and goats. According to the agency's website, cloned animals are generally healthy. Dogs, however, have slightly more complicated reproductive systems, making them more difficult to clone. The reproductive system is the group of organs and tissues capable of making a new life.
When dogs were first cloned, scientists were concerned that the clones would age faster than natural-borne dogs. Still, in most cases, clones have been just as healthy as dogs that aren't cloned.
The first dog clone was created in 2005 — an Afghan hound named Snuppy in South Korea. Snuppy lived to be about 10-years-old before she died of cancer. Afghan hounds live for about 11 years.
How Controversial Is Dog Cloning?
Unlike raising animals in the agriculture business, there are largely no laws that deal with pet-cloning. In 2005, California tried to pass a law that would ban cloning animals. Officials worried that too many abandoned pets would roam the streets because people would just clone their pets instead of adopting them from shelters. The law ultimately did not pass.
Some animal-welfare groups, such as the Humane Society, oppose cloning. It said that companies offering to clone pets just profit off of people who are grieving for their pets. The group said these companies falsely promise a copy of a beloved pet.
"With millions of deserving dogs and cats in need of a home, pet cloning is completely unnecessary," said Vicki Katrinak. She monitors animal research issues for the Humane Society.
Sooam Biotech could not be reached at the time of this article's publication and ViaGen declined to comment. (Article originally published on February 28, 2018, this material has been adapted for classroom use.)