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Cloned dogs not quite like the originals, says the New York Times

January 5, 2009 |  4:57 pm

In 2005, Hwang Woo Suk's research team unveiled the first cloned dog, right, named Snuppy. When we told you back in May about a California company's plans to auction off five cloned dogs, a lot of you were pretty steamed.  ("There are millions of abandoned and abused dogs in shelters that need homes. Cloning shiny 'brand name' dogs is a despicable waste of time, energy and resources," said Tanya.  "Get a life.")

Some of you, however, said that you'd jump at the chance to have a clone of your beloved pet ("I am so excited about this, I would do this in a heartbeat if I could.... I know all the animal rescue types are going to be whining about the shelter dogs, but no shelter dog in the world could ever replace my darling dog," said Julia.)

Now BioArts, the company that started the controversy, has announced that the first of the auctioned clones have been born in South Korea (although they haven't yet been transported back to their owners in the U.S., most of whom paid in the mid-$100K range for the service).  But the cloned dogs may not be all their owners had in mind, the New York Times reports:

The most difficult thing about the cloned puppies is not telling them apart, but explaining why they don’t look exactly alike. This was the problem Lou Hawthorne faced on a recent afternoon hike with Mira and MissyToo, two dogs whose embryos were created from the preserved, recycled and repurposed nuclear DNA of the original Missy, a border collie-husky mix who died in 2002.

(Hawthorne is the owner of BioArts and the first Missy belonged to his mother; he's had four dogs cloned from her DNA so far.) 

Mira and MissyToo do have some obvious differences, especially in size and coat color and texture.  But what of their personalities? Hawthorne's 10-year-old son performed a science project he called "Cloning Grandma's Dog," in which he "determined that Mira looked a lot like Missy but that their behavior was only 77 percent similar," according to the New York Times story.

Addressing the question of cloned animals' behavior, BioArts says:

The most widely held theory on animal behavior is that it's shaped by a mix of genetic and environmental factors. Two behavioral traits with strong genetic bases are intelligence and temperament, as demonstrated by differences in these traits between dog breeds such as Border Collie, Golden Retriever, and Pit Bull. Although environmental factors can shape the behavior of individuals to a certain degree, anyone who has worked with these breeds knows that their behavioral responses, such as herding in Collies and retrieving in Retrievers, are hardwired to a large degree. It is not unreasonable to assume that specific behaviors in individual dogs (and cats) may also have genetic bases, and thus may be present in clones of these individuals.

As for Hawthorne's mother, Joan, she's fairly unimpressed by Missy's clone and told the New York Times:

"They’re not at all alike.... In looks, they are a little bit, of course. But, I mean, the puppy is delicate and aggressive. Missy was robust and completely calm." She added, "Missy wouldn’t come through my home and knock over every wine glass."

Besides, she adopted another puppy not long after Missy died. "I already have a dog — a real dog."

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Snuppy (right), the first male dog cloned from adult cells by somatic nuclear cell transfer, and a male Afghan hound from which an adult skin cell was taken to clone him. Credit: Seoul National University

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