May 02, 2005
Californian Legislator Fearing Franken-Kitty Wants To Ban Pet Cloning

The Genetic Savings & Clone pet cloning service so offends a California state legislator that the legislator is determined to put a stop to pet cloning even though he is willing to tolerate cloning of barnyard animals.

Cloning hurts animals, exploits grieving pet owners and is unnecessary in a state that kills more than a million unwanted dogs and cats each year, said Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), whose bill, AB 1428, would make it illegal to sell cloned pets in California.

Further, Levine would ban the sale of genetically modified pets, which could affect a San Diego competitor's plan to create and sell allergy-proof cats: felines altered to remove a protein that causes some humans to sneeze. That company, Allerca, also plans to start selling cloned horses later this year. Levine said horses would not be covered under his bill because they are not considered pets.

Levine objects to cloning because millions of pound animals are killed each year. But based on that argument we might as well outlaw or heavily tax all intentional breeding of cats and dogs.

Levine also thinks that cloning amounts to playing with animals. But a lot of pets insist upon being played with. They can be downright annoying in their demands for play.

Animals, he said, "are not toys to be played with at our amusement."

"I'm concerned that once we start down this road, that's where we're heading," Levine said. " 'Oh gee, the cat got hit by a car, we'll just clone another one.' "

When cloning costs tens of thousands of dollars and pound pets cost little or nothing I'd say that clone pet buyers are going to be less lackadaisical than normal pet owners, not more.

Levine is afraid that hypoallergenic cats might breed with regular cats and fears "Franken-kitty". Time for Gene Wilder to do a sequel called "Old Franksteen" where he'd have a hypo-allergenic cat named "Franken-kitty".

Levine draws parallels with attempts to cross African and European bees. But am I wrong in thinking that the problem there wasn't so much the cross breeding as it was the fact that African bees are innately more aggressive? Did cross-breeding with European bees make them more dangerous or did the cross-breeding perhaps even dilute the aggressiveness? Anyone know?

What is it about pet cloning that makes it either a threat to public welfare or a threat to the ecosystem? Am I missing something obvious here?

When my Australian Shepherd was dying a few years ago friends, mindful of my interest in biotechnology, asked me if I was going to save some of his cells on the chance that the cells might be usable some day to clone him. I decided against it on the grounds that cloning him would not bring him back to life. The new dog would be a different dog without his memories and probably without some of his quirks. No matter how similar in some respects the clone would not be my good buddy and cloning my dog would not benefit my dog in any way. But if other people feel differently about it I do not see how their choices create a problem for the rest of us.

Genetic Savings & Clone says their initial clients are absolutely thrilled by their clone cats.

Dan, a 40-something investment counselor, became the second paying client to receive a pet clone when Genetic Savings & Clone officials delivered a kitten to his door on Tuesday, February 8. “Little Gizmo” is a clone of Gizmo, his mixed breed Siamese who died at age 13 in March 2004.

"Valentine’s Day is a special day for GSC, because our business is all about the love between people and their exceptional pets,” said GSC CEO Lou Hawthorne, who delivered Little Gizmo with Mike Hodnett, the company’s VP of Sales & Marketing. “With our second commercial cat clone delivery, we have again duplicated an exceptional pet, and made a certain client very, very happy.”

Dan, who requested that his last name be withheld for privacy, was among the first five people to sign up for GSC’s cat cloning service, which became available in February 2004 on a limited basis at the price of $50,000. One company client received her cloned kitten in December; the others will receive theirs within the next few months.

“There are no words to describe how happy I am,” Dan wrote in an email to Hodnett after spending time with Little Gizmo.

Company policy is to counsel clients that because behavior is influenced by environment as well as by genes, clones may not behave exactly as their genetic donors did. Nonetheless, both of the clients who have now received clones say that not only do they look like their predecessors, but their behavior is strikingly similar as well.

“She is exact, exact, exact in all of her mannerisms, habits, traits and personality,” Dan wrote of Little Gizmo’s similarity to Gizmo. Little Gizmo was born in Austin, Texas, where GSC has done most of its cloning research and development. The company’s business headquarters is located in Sausalito, California.

Phil Damiani, Ph.D., GSC’s new Chief Scientific Officer, describes Little Gizmo as yet another example of the excellent results the company is achieving with chromatin transfer (CT), the technology GSC has exclusively licensed for use in pet cloning. CT is a more advanced technology than NT, the method used to produce Dolly and most other clones. Every cat produced by GSC except CC, the world’s first cat clone, is the result of the CT process.

“Not only has chromatin transfer helped us produce healthy, normal cats,” Dr. Damiani said, “but it has also increased our efficiency, which means we require fewer mothers than we would otherwise.” The increased efficiency of the CT process is one reason that GSC today announced a reduced price of $32,000 for their cat cloning service.

Note this part about "several leading cloning companies".

Before joining GSC, Dr. Damiani worked at several leading cloning companies, coordinating research on cows, pigs, dogs, cats, and endangered species, including the Gaur, an endangered relative of the ox, which he cloned in 2000. Dr. Damiani also worked in South Africa establishing a gene bank and assisted reproduction laboratory for wild animals, and helped establish the cloning program at the Audubon Nature Institute’s Center for Research of Endangered Species (AICRES). Dr. Damiani received his doctorate in Reproductive Physiology from the University of Massachusetts, and has numerous publications, patents and patents pending.

A regular cloning industry has sprung up. Cloning is becoming routine.

So again, what is wrong with pet cloning? Is it creepy? Yeah, I guess a little. But what harm does it cause?

Maybe if some ferocious pit bull is cloned dozens of times and one of them kills a person and leaves DNA evidence behind then there will be no way to identify which clone did the killing. But I bet that problem could be handled eventually with a bit of genetic engineering to place unique genetic markers in each clone.

I don't think pet cloning where single replacement copies are made does any harm to species diversity. If pet species genetic diversity is an issue then why not ban the breeding practices of the show breeders who try to achieve perfect breed shapes and in the process radically in-breed and ruin breeds? In fact, if it had been possible for anyone to keep cloning their 1940s collies or golden retrieivers they'd have better dogs than most of the collies and goldens walking around today.

Pet animal cloning will help drive down the price of the biotechnologies used in cloning and also help identify problems and work out kinks in cloning technology. Therefore human cloning will eventually be easier as a result. Is that a reason to oppose pet cloning?

Update:An organization called United Animal Nations supports Levine's attempt to ban pet cloning and have joined with the American Anti-Vivisection Society and the International Center for Technology Assessment to set up nopetcloning.org to support Levine's bill AB 1428.

GSC has a press release answering many of the objections raised by the opponents of pet cloning.

1) Wellbeing of Clones. The results we've had with our new CT technology are extremely good — comparable to what conventional breeders experience — allowing us to offer our clients a full guarantee on health of the clones we produce. As University of Pennsylvania bioethics professor Dr. Autumn Fiester explains, “Cloning science is advancing so rapidly that the survival rates and general health of clones are beginning to mirror animals naturally conceived — so this [argument] will soon be a non-starter.”

2) Wellbeing of Surrogates. The transfer of cloned embryos to a surrogate mother is no more invasive than a common spay. Routine and effective steps are taken by a fully licensed veterinarian to prevent discomfort to the surrogate mother. During their pregnancies and deliveries, our surrogate mothers spend most of their time in the care of experienced breeders under contract to GSC who adhere to our strict animal care protocols. The facilities are professionally staffed throughout the day, and the surrogates receive individualized attention several times a day, along with a broad range of enrichment toys and human/animal as well as animal/animal socialization activities.

3) Reasonable Oversight. As the world's first pet cloning company, we operate in a fish bowl. Literally thousands of print, radio, television and internet stories are produced about our company each year. This level of public scrutiny — combined with our commitment to transparency — results in the public learning everything it needs to know about GSC's methods and operations. Given that our activities are widely scrutinized and ultimately determine our success, we have adopted the highest standards of animal welfare, scientific practice, and consumer information, far exceeding any likely government oversight. For this reason, we see no problem with reasonable oversight of the pet cloning industry, and in fact would welcome it as a way of constraining companies that do not share our commitment to best cloning practices.

4) Pet Overpopulation. Millions of animals are abandoned each year and commercial breeders produce over three million pets per year, yet Assemblyman Levine wants to shut down a company that to date has produced fewer than 10 animals. Mr. Levine is obviously unaware that GSC's operations actually reduce the population of unwanted pets. For research purposes, GSC requires large numbers of cat and dog ovaries, a waste product we purchase from spay clinics. To date GSC has paid over $350,000 to spay clinics across the country, funds they've used to spay thousands of dogs and cats. In addition, GSC has provided $315,000 to date to the University of Virginia Center for Research in Contraceptive and Reproductive Health, for development of an injectible sterilant for dogs and cats, which would greatly reduce the overhead of spay clinics worldwide.

As biotechnology advances to the point that it can do more things one problem biotechnology companies are going to increasingly face is that their product or service produces a result that is just going to seem really weird to some people. Cloned pets definitely seem weird. But if the animals look and act like normal pets then I don't expect this sort of reaction to last. Compare it to appearance-altering plastic surgery. Some stars in Hollywood have lips and other facial features that seem a lot weirder to me than pet clones. Or look at major league baseball players who have unnatural-looking physiques as a result of steroid use. Or how about those people who cover their bodies with tattoos. These all seem weirder to me than pet clones.

What do you expect people to do to themselves or to other species in the future that you expect will seem weird for a long time to come?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2005 May 02 02:29 PM  Bioethics Debate


Comments
Invisible Scientist said at May 2, 2005 3:41 PM:

Randall Parker:

Can you comment a little more about the phenomenon of "Telomerese"? If my memory is correct, the end points of the DNA sequence allows the cells to divide only finetely many times, because this special "Telomere" substance diminishes with each division, finally running out.

Apparently, this was probably the reason the famous cloned sheep "Dolly" died at a young age, because it was intrinsically as old as its "parent" at the time she was born, as far as cell division is concerned.

Therefore, if the cloned animals (or humans) are allowed to have further offspring from regular animals (or humans that were not cloned), then the new generation might have some very unexpected health complications, not to mention possible degenerations that cannot be predicted or controlled.

I predict that in the future, there will be some kind of gene police, to keep track of outlaw scientists who clone without permission.

Randall Parker said at May 2, 2005 6:44 PM:

Invisible,

Telomeres get shorter as cells go thru many divisions. Taking a genome from an older cat cell to create a clone might result in a cat that has shorter telomeres at birth and therefore a shorter life expectancy.

However, I'm not sure if that problem is still unsolved. Does the cloning method used to make these cats grow the telomeres by somehow activating the telomerase gene?

Invisible Scientist said at May 3, 2005 2:59 AM:

The fact that the perfect-looking cloned sheep "Dolly" died at a young age under mysterius circumstances, makes me worry that something was intrinsically wrong under the surface. And perhaps, when there are so many subsurface flaws in a clone, allowing the laboratory-made creature to mix with regular creatures, may be imprudent.

toot said at May 3, 2005 9:18 AM:

Dolly had triplet lambs at the age of three. To suppose that she was already six years old (in terms of teleomere lengths) at the time of her birth would suggest that her lambing occurred at an equivalent age of nine, which is rather old for the kind of sheep that she was. I suspect that the problems of teleomeric length will be overcome, in any event.

I think Levine is tending to confuse pets and people, so his wish to prohibit the cloning of pets is simply a carry over from the "ugh" factor that many people associate with cloning humans. The concern about cloning humans strikes me as somewhat misdirected, however. A cloned human would be no different in principle to an identical twin. The real problem with human cloning, in my opinion, is that it makes it possible to bring a child into the world having no family to nurture, protect, and love him. Of course one might say the same of a bastard or a foundling. In the worst case one could imagine a child being reared by some kind of institution such as a corporation or government agency for purposes other than the welfare of the child, a situation not very distant from slavery. An example of this already, in the eyes of those who attribute personhood to the embryo, is Wilmut's plan to clone embryos who have pathological problems, such as Lou Gehrig's disease, in order that their development can be followed in search of a cure. This is certainly contrary to the Kantian ethic that no person should be treated as a means for the benefit of others.

mark said at May 3, 2005 2:37 PM:

African bees are naturally more agressive, but more productive than the common european bees. They were hybridized in an attempt to get the higher honey production without as much bad temper. They escaped from a test in South America in the late 1950's. When they sting they give off a hormone that triggers a mass attack, unlike the more docile european bees.

Lono said at May 3, 2005 4:17 PM:


Oy vey!

I don't believe for a second that GS&C have purrfected the cloning process or even really worked out some the major problems.

Frankly I think it's totally irresponsible for them to go forward with such a flawed biological "product".

The whole reason I dropped out of the BioTech industry was this insanely irresponsible, unethical, corporate behavior.

And we can be assured that someone will publicly clone a Human before that technology is perfected also - leading to the "frankenstein" scenario that all the luddites out there are waiting for.

It will likely lead to a massive backlash that will ultimately put us years behind in biotechnology, as well as irreversably politicising the entire industry.

Must Humans always advance so painfully??

Maybe... until we achieve longer lifespans and with them some true patience and wisdom.

Fly said at May 3, 2005 6:01 PM:

More recent cloning methods restore telomere length. There may still be problems in correctly setting epigenetic factors. In vitro fertilization may suffer from similar problems.

John Anderson said at May 3, 2005 9:33 PM:

Levine is just one of the many people who, usually unaware, feel that if great-grampa couldn't do it we shouldn't even try - and happily board jet aircraft to spread this word.

frank said at December 15, 2005 9:32 PM:

1. About crossing African with European bees: if I remember correctly, the hybrids were better tempered then the African bees but still not friendly.

2. Regarding the hypoallergenic cat: There is a bona fide reason for this critter's existance. There is a small but significant percentage of people who like cats but are very allergic to them (I'm one). These folks could never adopt a cat from a Shelter or Rescue organization but they could live with one that was hypoallergenic. Last I heard, they were predicted to cost several thousand dollars. I'd give thought to getting one if I didn't live in an apartment complex that forbids pets.

Cheers. Frank

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