The main problem with pets is that they die. When a faithful animal companion gets hit by a car or does not come back from the vet, it can be a traumatic experience for both children and adults.
What if you could bring back your beloved dog or cat? Not as the old-in-dog-years hound or a cat at the end of his nine lives, but as a puppy or a kitten again, the same animal but with a whole new life?
That's the promise of pet cloning, which Newsweek's "Conventional Wisdom" column has dubbed the "killer app" of cloning technology; that is, an application of biological engineering that-unlike many high-tech discoveries-might actually make tons of money.
The concept has inspired a new line of high-tech businesses that go by names like PerPETuate and Lazaron. Thus far, they are only selling DNA collection and storage ($700 to take a pet biopsy, and $10 a month storage fee, until cloning is technologically feasible). But now a company called Genetic Savings & Clone has successfully cloned a cat.
If this works, could the same process someday be used to bring back deceased children and other relatives? Could you bring back yourself? A genetic Xerox of yourself, to be born again as a baby to live your life all over again? Lazaron, named after the man Jesus raised from the dead, is clearly already thinking in these terms. For $95, you can have a "DNA capsule" made, storing a human hair, nail-clipping, or tooth ("an excellent source of DNA") in a tiny resin container that will preserve your genetic code for later.
Is cloning a secular, scientific method of attaining everlasting life, not in heaven but back in this world? Would it result in a materialistically engineered reincarnation?
One problem is that, to the surprise of researchers, the cloned kitten, named CopyCat or "CC" for short, is not a carbon copy after all. The adult cat that was cloned is an orange, black, and white calico. CC is a black and white tabby. The two are genetically identical, but they do not look alike at all.
It turns out, genes do not determine everything about a living being. In animals, DNA alone does not determine coat-color patterns. Nor, says lead scientist of the project Mark Westhusin, does it determine the "personality" of an animal. An affectionate cat could be cloned into an aloof cat. As Mr. Westhusin told Newsweek's Anne Underwood, "Cloning is reproduction, not resurrection."
This is not the only problem with cloning. Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal, is undergoing accelerated aging. At only 5, she was struck by arthritis, and scientists have found that her cells show the wear and tear of a much older animal.
Many cloned animals are born dead, and others die soon after, with oversized organs, deformities, and sometimes being twice the size they should be. Though now there are hundreds of cloned cows, pigs, goats, and mice that appear healthy, serious problems sometimes arise when they reach adulthood.
A study published in the latest edition of Nature Medicine by scientists at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine reports on how cloned mice suddenly, when they reached adulthood, developed obesity. It isn't that the mice stopped working out when they hit middle age, spending all their time watching TV and drinking beer and eating snacks while reclining in little Barca loungers. Their insulin levels were out of whack and they lacked the hormone that regulates appetite.
In a commentary accompanying the article, Ian Wilmut, the scientist who cloned Dolly, concludes, "It is questionable whether there are any clones that are entirely normal."
The most brutal aspect of cloning is the number of embryos that are first engendered and then thrown away and killed before finding one that will "take" in a donor womb. What is done with animals is also done with human cloning experiments, including those designed simply to "harvest" their stem cells, using human babies as the raw material in grisly factories.
In the case of the cloned cat, the ratio of "unsuccessful" embryos to the one that finally worked was about the same as in all other cloning experiments. CopyCat was the sole survivor of 87 kitten embryos.