Barbra Streisand cloned a beloved dog, as revealed in a wide-ranging cover story for Variety. Her two pups Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett (who appear periodically on her Instagram) are clones of her Coton du Tulear Samantha, who passed away in May of 2017. Streisand has a third Coton du Tulear named Miss Fanny, who is a distant cousin of Samantha.
“They have different personalities,” Streisand told Variety, of the cloned dogs. “I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and seriousness.”
This has left us wondering, “What does it take to clone a pet?”
The history of cloning animals
The news of Streisand’s cloned dog comes more than two decades after the infamous cloning of Dolly the sheep in Scotland in 1996.
After Dolly, it took nearly a decade to successfully clone a dog. The first cloned dog, Snuppy, an Afghan hound, was born in 2005 in South Korea at Seoul National University.
Up until 2015, the only place a person could get their dog cloned was South Korea. One such laboratory, Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, has been operating since 2006 and has cloned at least 600 dogs, according to a 2015 interview with NPR.
In 2016, the first dog cloned on American soil was born — a Jack Russell Terrier named Nubia, who was cloned by the Texas-based company ViaGen. The company has since cloned “over a hundred” dogs and cats, according to a January 2018 story by The Daily Beast. ViaGen, which started cloning livestock, is reportedly the only U.S. company performing pet cloning.
How much cloning a dog costs
NPR reported that Sooam Biotech Research Foundation was charging around $100,000 to clone a person’s dog in 2015.
ViaGen has slashed that price in half; they charge $50,000 to clone a dog and $25,000 to clone a cat. The company also offers genetic preservation for $1,600, which involves a veterinarian performing a biopsy on the pet to remove tissue, which ViaGen then saves, storing the pet’s genetic information. With genetic preservation, owners can elect whether to clone their pets at a later date.
How cloning works
The harvesting of cells from a dog can be done when the animal is still alive or after it has died, so long as the cells are collected within a certain amount of time — fewer than five days, according to a video from Tech Insider.
To collect from a live dog, a veterinarian performs skin punch biopsy on a pet’s abdomen, and then sends the genetic material to the lab performing the cloning. Scientists then remove the nucleus from eggs harvested from donor pets (oocyctes), and insert a skin cell from the dog to be cloned. The embryo is then given an electric shock to start the embryo’s dividing process.
Next, the modified embryos are implanted via an invasive surgery into surrogate dogs. If all goes to plan, a genetic twin of the pet dog is born.
Though, while the genes may be identical, there may be slight variations, Alan Beck, director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, tells The Daily Beast. The animal will not have the same personality as the original pet.
Cloning’s ethical issues
For families that think of a beloved pet as a member of the family, it may be tempting to hold onto that pet — or its genetic twin. But beyond the high price tag, there are ethical questions to consider when cloning a pet.
Pulitzer prize-winning journalist John Woestendiek wrote a book Dog, Inc. about dog cloning. In an interview with Scientific American, he discussed the ethical issues with dog cloning.
“One is the sort of philosophical question of whether we really need new ways to make dogs when so many are already being put down in shelters,” says Woestendiek, also noting that he witnessed surplus cloned dogs in cages in South Korea.
There are also concerns about the amount of dogs it needed to produce just one clone, says Woestendiek. In addition to the original dog, cloners need to harvest egg cells around a dozen dogs in heat. And then they need surrogate mother dogs to carry the puppies to birth. “That’s a whole lot of surgeries, on a whole lot of dogs,” Woestendiek says.
Mostly, though, Woestendiek worries that these companies exploit families grieving over their pets, noting that the personality of your pet cannot be replicated.
Streisand is not the only celebrity to clone their dog. Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg also cloned their Jack Russell Terrier several years ago.