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Seeing Double

By Pat Davis

          You're in the field behind your house with your favorite hunting Beagle. You're just kickin' back and enjoying the moment. The long bawl of old Sally is just about the prettiest music you've ever heard. "It doesn't get any better than this." You say aloud.

          "It sure doesn't!" Your best hunting buddy Jim as just arrived, but you didn't hear him pull up. He's been away for awhile, and you haven't seen him in nearly two years.

          "Hey, good to see you! Sorry I didn't hear you pull up, but I'm pretty pumped about huntin' season this year."

          "Man, by the looks of your dog you ought to be!" Your friend chimes. He's gazing out over the field and pulls down the brim of his cap to shade his eyes a bit, while straining to get a better view of your dog. Finally, Jim turns to you and pushes the hat off of his brow. " You know, I can't quite put my finger on it, but Sally sure is looking good this year. I don't know… she seems younger, brighter, and even more agile than usual. What the heck are you feeding that dog?"

          You're facing him squarely now, you smile inward. Should you tell him or not? The excitement is just too much. " Old Sally passed away last year. That's Sally's clone."

          Your friend just dropped his teeth!

          Sound far-fetched? Can they really do that? You bet! The technology is being developed as you sit and ponder the idea.

          But would you clone your favorite Beagle even if you could? Would the clone be identical to, and as good as, the "real" thing? And what in the world would something like that cost anyway?

          Scientists have managed to successfully clone sheep, goats, mice, frogs, calves and soon - pigs. Just recently the British have declared that they are considering a repeal on a ban against cloning humans that was enacted back in 1990. This would allow limited human cloning to be done, for research purposes only, on 14-day-old embryos. A while ago here in the States, in Worchester, Massachusetts, researchers at Advanced Cell Technology had injected genetic material from a man's leg into a cow's egg. This developed into an embryo, but was only allowed to live for 12 days. This is because after 14 days the nervous system begins to develop in the embryo and it attaches itself to the uterine wall. Before this 14th day however, scientists say it is just tissue consisting of about 20 cell divisions and cannot be recognized as human.

          Cloning has been around for over 30 years using the embryonic cells of animals. But back in 1997 a Scottish scientist named Ian Wilmut changed all that by cloning cells from an adult sheep. The result of his work is the well-known Dolly the sheep, who was cloned from a 6-year-old adult ewe. Mammary cells were used in that cloning effort because it was believed that the chromosomes of mammary cells are stable and hopefully, would retain all of their genetic information. But by using the mammary cells the researchers could only produce female clones. Read more about Dolly in Scientific America.

          The Japanese have really been busy, and have found a way to clone the clones! They've successfully cloned cows from the cells of donor cows and even from the genetic material found in the cow's milk. Not to be outdone, American scientists at the University of Connecticut have teamed up to clone a Holstein calf from the cells of an adult cow's ear, making it possible to create either a male or female clone. Credit Ellen Sung at Policy.com. for these interesting tid-bits.

          Would you eat the meat or drink the milk of a clone? According to another little item I read on Policy.com, public reaction was so negative in Japan after it slaughtered a small herd of only 66 cloned cattle for human consumption, that the Minister of Agriculture had to go on national television and eat the cloned meat himself. He was trying to convince the public of the safety and quality of the cloned beef. Japan must import nearly all of its beef, so cloning could provide the Japanese with cheaper meat and milk prices by increasing its supply.

          I haven't ran across anything regarding the outcome of that particular trial, but those that support the cloning movement say that cloning is here to stay because of the medical benefits of a process called "pharming" - this refers to developing pharmaceuticals using genetically altered farm animals. The DNA of the transgenic livestock cells is altered to produce chemicals and/or organs for transplant in humans. By transgenic, I mean that the animal carries some human DNA in the milk or organs. These animals have been genetically altered. DNA sequences from an animal and a human are combined and added to animal cells that will be used as donors of the nuclei.

          There is already a herd of sheep being bred to secrete the human Factor IX (a blood-clotting protein) in their milk to treat hemophiliacs. Researchers are working to create other transgenic animals to provide treatment or cures for other human illnesses such as cystic fibrosis, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, cancer, aging, muscular dystrophy, and AIDS.

          Cloning is based on nuclear transfer. This involves the use of two cells. An unfertilized egg (a recipient egg) is taken from an animal soon after ovulation, it is set to start developing once it's been stimulated. The recipient egg has all of its chromosomes removed with a little instrument called a micropipette. Then a donor cell, which still has its nucleus intact, is fused with the empty egg. After it starts to develop it is implanted into the uterus of a surrogate mother.

          You should know that all cells, whether fetal or adult, have a complete set of genetic instructions. But in adult cells some of the DNA blueprint needed to create the whole animal has been "turned off" - they are specialized or differentiated (eyes, ears, heart, and so on). So the creation of Dolly, a complete animal, created from an adult cell was revolutionary in the cloning world.

          While it's not as easy as it sounds to clone an animal, it is getting easier. Dolly the sheep took nearly 300 attempts before she was successfully cloned, but the Japanese have been working diligently to improve the efficiency of their cloning methods so that they can begin to enjoy large-scale cloning of their livestock from adult cows. The journal Science has reported that 8 out of 10 implanted Japanese cow embryos made of adult cells were carried to term.

          Researchers at the University of Connecticut say that each cell division is like aging the cells for one year. But the more cell divisions prior to implantation the higher percentage of pregnancies. For instance, 10 cell divisions (giving it an age of 10 years in cellular time) may only result in a 30% chance of pregnancy while 30 cell divisions (you guessed it; 30 years in cellular time) would result in a 64% chance of pregnancy. From what I understand, because they are getting healthy births from old cells, the scientists at the University of Massachusetts are now rethinking their position in the matter, and now think that aging may not be such a big deal after all. But, it was found that Dolly the sheep's chromosomes are shorter than normal sheep her age, and this is a sign of cellular aging according to reports in the New Scientist.

          But back to your Beagle -

          Would you clone that favorite Beagle if it were possible to do so? You may just have the opportunity to do that in the near future. There's a little company out in College Station, Texas that is betting that you will. It's called Genetic Savings and Clone. (No, I didn't make that up.) You can visit their website at: http://www.savingsandclone.com.

          It's offering cloning services to people who want to copy that special pet in their life. And although scientists still haven't been successful at cloning a cat or a dog (it seems they are made up a little differently than our barnyard friends) you can bet they working on it! Right now all the company is able to offer is to keep frozen samples of your pet until their researchers have worked out all the details, and their process is refined.

          How did a company like this get started you ask? It seems this Genetic Savings and Clone sprang from a study at the Texas A&M University after it attempted to clone a mixed border collie named Missy. They named the project Missyplicity. (How do they come up with this stuff?)

          Interesting story behind little Missy; a billionaire owned Missy, and donated $2.3 million dollars to Texas A&M to clone his beloved mutt. And while they still haven't cloned Missy yet, they feel confident they will clone her and clones of her clones in the near future. They say they are "90% there", or so I've read. (Hey, at $2.3 million dollars and a billionaire on the hook - I'd be there too!)

          So how much does it cost to clone that favorite little Beagle if you're NOT a billionaire?

          Plenty!

          The company charges $1,000-$3,000 just to freeze the gene and $100 per year in storage fees. (And how much space does a gene take up?) But, ah heck, that's nothing. It's a drop in the bucket. If your pet actually gets cloned it will cost you a whopping $200,000 for the cloning. But take heart, like the color television, the VCR, and the microwave oven, prices will surely come down - cheap, in fact - to a mere $20,000 in the years ahead. (abcNEWS- John Yarbrough)

          But be aware that the company warns you that the cloned version of your furry little friend won't be like the original. Not in looks, nor in personality. Geesh!

          In fact, remember Ian Wilmut, the Scot who cloned Dolly? Well, Wilmut said something to the effect that people may be a bit disappointed because the coat color patches won't be the same on the clone as on the original, and that he'd be mighty surprised if the clone's temperament was like the original either. Double Geesh! (Rick Weiss -Washington Post)

          It is said that genetics account for a small part of the dog's coat and disposition. Many scientists have pointed out that a clone would not be an identical copy of the original, but more like a twin, born years after the first twin. And that just like identical twins, they would be two separate dogs - biologically (remember, by using an adult cell the donor could produce either a male or a female) and psychologically different, but are genetically the same.

          It seems there is no genetic determinism. Genetic determinism is the view that genes determine everything about us (Or in this case, our dogs) and that environmental factors or random events in development are insignificant.

          Sorry, but the overwhelming scientific consensus is that genetic determinism is false. Even clones can't escape the old nature versus nurture dilemma.

          Biologists have really become aware of the many, many ways in which the environment affects genetic expression. Even simple genetic contributions such as size and coat color are significantly mediated by environmental factors. Things like intelligence and behavior have a limited and indirect genetic influence.

          Since cloning is essentially "asexual reproduction", and since the genetic material basically comes from only one parent (the donor cell), it begs the question - Is a clone an offspring or a sibling? Are the parents of the donor cell also the parents of the clone? When viewed in this light we can look at littermates and see that even though they have the same parents, the siblings just aren't the same. The clone would have the same DNA as the donor, but influences in the environment and the psychological makeup of the clone would cause some genes to be expressed, and some genes to be repressed.

          The Japanese feel that by using adult cells to create a clone, you have animals that have already proven themselves to be of high quality. But you've got to ask yourself, What determines high quality? Just what exactly is high quality in a hunting Beagle or even a family pet, and can it be duplicated?

          Would you be willing to risk a couple of hundred thousand dollars to prove the majority of the scientific community wrong? - That there really is genetic determinism.

          I tend to think as author, Louise Hay, concerning the matter of individuality-

          Nature never repeats itself. We are different. We are meant to be different. There is no competition and no comparison.

          This goes for my Beagles as well.

Should you have a concern regarding the health of your Beagle(s), you should contact your veterinarian. All information on this site is presented solely for educational and informational purposes and should not, at any time, be considered a substitute for seeking or receiving veterinary care for your Beagle(s).