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Researchers Create First Cloned Dog

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Dr. Autumn Fiester
Senior Fellow, University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics
Thursday, August 4, 2005; 11:00 AM

After creating over 1,000 laboratory-grown embryos, researchers in South Korea announced that they have successfully cloned a dog. Snuppy, who is the world's first canine clone, originated from a cell taken from the ear of a three year old Afghan hound. While scientists noted this as a major milestone in genetic technology, others expressed concern that this latest breakthrough could be a step toward human cloning.

Dr. Autumn Fiester , a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics who specializes in animal cloning, was online Thursday, Aug. 4, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the creation of the world's first canine clone in South Korea.

Read the latest: In a Furry First, A Dog Is Cloned In South Korea.

The transcript follows.

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Washington, D.C.: Is South Korea poised to dominate the world of cloning and stem cells? Do they already?

Dr. Autumn Fiester: They are certainly out in front on many technologies. Scientists have been worried since 2001 that this would be the kind of effect that our national policy would have on science and technology. But with new initiatives at the state level, most dramatically California's new stem cell funding, I think we are going to see a lot of exciting work done by US scientists.

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University Park, MD: I don't understand the shrill voices demanding that all cloning research be stopped, lest mankind "usurp the prerogatives of God." What is the difference between cloning an animal and keeping a brain-dead woman on artificial life support for three months while her fetus develops enough to have a chance of survival with millions of dollars worth of medical care?; The latter seems far more "unnatural" to me.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: The biggest problem we have today in evaluating science and technology is consistency. There is no doubt that we are very comfortable embracing certain technologies, while we fear or condemn others. Probably the most problematic argument against medical or animal biotechnology is the "playing God" or "unnatural" argument you mention. It is very hard to explain how the people who make this argument can accept all of the other manipulations and modifications that scientists have made to both animal and human life over time. I think it is tremendously important that we try to help people think through these issues, so that we can get clear on what lines ought to be drawn and which projects embraced or rejected.

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Arlington, Va.: Maybe a silly question, but ... Where does the embryo actually grow? Inside a dog after it leaves the dish or inside a lab? And who would the dog's parents be? The parents of the dog that is was cloned from, or the dog that it was cloned from? Thank you for helping me to sort this one out ...

Dr. Autumn Fiester: Embryos are live cells, so they are growing from the moment they are created -- just like in human in vitro fertilization. But most of the growth will take place inside the surrogate animal's uterus, just like in a natural pregnancy. The genetic parents are the same parents whose DNA created the original dog; the surrogate is the female who carries the fetus.

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Clifton, Va.: Not sure why you would want to clone a dog and especially a Afghan hound. Afghan's although a beautiful are recognized as one if not the dumbest breed of dog. I herd competitively at herding trials on the east coast with a rough collie and have no desire for a cloned dog. And would prefer to see the cloning of dogs banned since I see cloning ruining various herding breeds just like the AKC and conformation shows.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: You raise an excellent point: what purposes does or should animal cloning serve? The purpose of the pet cloning firms is not to mass produce the same dog (or even the same breed), but to enable clients to have the genetic twin of one beloved dog. The idea of pet cloning is to embrace the uniqueness of a special pet by creating its identical twin. The kind of mass- or over-production you are talking about goes completely against the spirit of why clients want to use this technology to help them with the loss of their pet.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: Given the clients' reason for cloning, it won't matter to them what the natural endowments were of their pet. In other words, if dog cloning becomes commercially possible, it may not be the smartest or fastest dogs that get cloned.

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Dr. Autumn Fiester: Hello. Thank you for inviting me today, It is honor to be here.

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Chicago, Ill.: I've got lots of curmudgeonly things to say about cloning dogs at a time that million are facing starvation, etc., but the comment that keeps coming to the forefront of my mind is the recent Onion parody headline: "Cloned pet neutered."

Dr. Autumn Fiester: Many people do argue that it is morally wrong to clone a dog when there are millions languishing in shelters. I don't find that a persuasive argument against animal cloning for a few reasons. First, if it isn't wrong to go to a breeder to get a pure-bred dog, despite how many dogs are already in shelters, then it isn't wrong to clone one. In fact, the number of animals that will ever be cloned is a drop in the bucket compared to the millions of animals that are naturally bred(intentionally or by accident). Also, if I love a particular animal and want either its offspring or identical twin, I am not obligated to adopt some entirely unrelated animal that already exists.

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Vienna, Va.: This experiment raises two questions for me, and I was hoping you could clear them up. First, during the growth of the clone fetus, did its DNA express itself (unzip, develop, genetically interact to create the organs, etc.) exactly the same way that the donor's DNA did when it was a fetus? It's my understanding that even though a clone has the same DNA, its genetic development (the myriad interactions between genes that create and maintain an organism) will not replicate the donor's genetic development. Thus, someone who clones a pet in order to "keep" it longer than its life span will not get the same cat or dog -- similar in appearance, but probably not the same temperament, habits, etc. Is this right? The second question has to do with timing. If you take a 5 year-old dog's DNA and clone it, aren't you cloning DNA that is 5 years along in it's natural life span? Does the cloning process itself "reset" the DNA entirely, or do some of the problems and eventual breakdowns (and changes to the DNA that have taken place during the donor's lifetime due to environment, nutrition, etc.) that are taking place in the donor get passed onto the clone? Sorry, that's more than two questions.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: You are certainly right that cloning an animal is not "getting the same dog or cat back." The clone will only ever be a leter-born identical twin. How similar the twin will be is an open question, given the different environmental factors that go into temperament. But people who want to clone their animal may not be asking for the resurrection or immortality of their pet: they may just want something to be left of the original animal -- some "part" of him that they can hang on to. And if cloning is seen by clients as a type of solace or way of coping with grief then it isn't a problem that they aren't getting the "same" pet back.

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Washington, D.C.: Were any dogs sacrificed during the process? I read they experimented on hundreds of dogs before succeeding in cloning one. What happened to these dogs? Thanks.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: This is the most pressing issue for the ethics of companion animal cloning: how much animal suffering is involved? There are three parts of the process where animals might suffer: harvesting the eggs from the donors, carrying the cloned fetuses to term, and the health of the live clone. How much animal suffering is involved in these procedures depends a lot on how the scientists are conducting the work. IVF done, and it is uncomfortable, but not an extreme amount of suffering. So the donor and the surrogate need not suffer -- and they certainly don't need to be euthanized -- in principle. In cat cloning, for example, the surrogates are adopted after the clones are produced. As for the health of the clones that are born alive -- this is the data we all need.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: (I omitted a sentence in my first response; let's try this one again). This is the most pressing issue for the ethics of companion animal cloning: how much animal suffering is involved? There are three parts of the process where animals might suffer: harvesting the eggs from the donors, carrying the cloned fetuses to term, and the health of the live clone. How much animal suffering is involved in these procedures depends a lot on how the scientists are conducting the work. The harvesting of the eggs and the implantation is similar to what a human woman goes through in IVF, and it is uncomfortable, but it is not an extreme amount of suffering. So the donor and the surrogate need not suffer terribly -- and they certainly don't need to be euthanized -- in principle. In cat cloning, for example, the surrogates are adopted after the clones are produced, and the eggs are retrieved from spay clinics, so the donor cats aren't even subjected to an additional procedure. As for the health of the clones that are born alive -- this is the data we all need.

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Washington, D.C.: This talk that these people are just trying to replace a beloved pet is disturbing, and a little pathetic. Pets die. I've had two dogs and a cat die. Coping with the grief and accepting the loss is part of life- it's part of growing up and maturing.

What kind of message does it send to the kids. "Don't be sad that Fido died, Katie. We'll resurrect him."

Really, it's a sick commentary on where society is heading.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: Well, that depends on whether clients are trying to avoid their grief or trying to find some type of solace for their loss. You are certainly right that if cloning is used to escape grief, then we will have lost something very valuable in human life -- the kind of deep valuing of someone that provokes the grief in the first place. But this may not be what clients are doing. They might not be trying to "replace" the pet, but "have something" from the pet. And we have this in the human context: if my adult son dies, I might say, "Thank goodness he had children." And what we mean is that I still have a little bit of him. For pets that were neutered, this is not an option; so the genetic twin might be the next best thing.

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New York, N.Y.: It certainly appears that South Korea (and possibly many other Asian countries) do not approach cloning and stem cell research with the same trepidation as the U.S. Conservatives are decrying this achievement as another step in the slippery slope to human cloning. Do they have anything to worry about? Are there any treaties banning human cloning and, given the non-binding nature of international law, is there anyway to enforce such a prohibition against a "rogue" state?

Dr. Autumn Fiester: Although I think many of these technologies are important advancements that will improve human (and animal) life, I certainly think that we all have something to worry about in terms of the capability to do human reproductive cloning. If the question is: "will these technologies take us closer to the ability to clone a human baby?", the answer is "absolutely yes." But that ship has already sailed. This science has advanced so fast in ten years that there is no going back to pre-cloning days, any more than there is going back to pre-nuclear weapons days. What we must do is create an enforceable ban on human reproductive cloning. The slippery slope is not inevitable. We must get international agreement that human reproductive cloning will universally be considered a criminal offense. The risks to the cloned child are too great to even consider allowing such research.

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Washington, D.C.: Pardon me, but I believe the person who asked about the ethics of cloning "beloved pets" when millions are starving was referring to PEOPLE and NOT DOGS! And this is my problem with the whole thing as well.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: I misunderstood. If that is the objection, then there is a different answer. If the problem is the expense (it currently costs $32,000 to have your cat cloned), then this is the same objection you would raise to any spending on luxury goods. It is not more wrong to buy a $30,000 cat clone, than a $30,000 horse, or $30,000 boat or BMW. The world might be a better place if we all took our non-necessary spending money and put it towards good causes, but at this point, there seems to be no more justification to condemn cat-cloning (or dog-cloning) than boat-buying.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: When an animal is cloned, does it have a lower average life span than a similar animal born naturally? Is it true that some aging elements of the original animal are passed along to the cloned animal?

Dr. Autumn Fiester: That is the essential question! And right now, there is no way to answer it because none of these clones have been around long enough to know. But this is absolutely the data we need. We need long-term studies on the health and life span of clones to know what type of suffering is involved.

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Arlington, Va.: Neutering of pets is highly promoted for obvious reasons. But if a person is going to get their dog cloned, isn't better just to let a dog reproduce and then neuter it? I guess it true cloning you get one animal and reproduction you might get tons, but I'm sure cloning will be very expensive.. it seems like such a waste of resources...

Dr. Autumn Fiester: I believe that many of the pet cloning clients would have elected to breed their animals if that were possible. But these animals are neutered at a very young age.

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Munich, Germany: By the sound of today's article by Rick Weiss, the cloning of dogs will primarily help stem cell research, which in turn will be of use in human stem cell research. I'm sure that Christopher Reeve would approve of this concept.

However, I dread the thought of any intelligent animals being tortured for the purpose of stem cell research. I've seen TV programs of mice or rats having their spinal cords severed, and then injected with stem cells. I'd hate to see dogs put to this use.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: I would, too. But this is why we need to look at each research project on a case-by-case basis and evaluate how much benefit could come from it versus how much suffering on the part of the animals it will exact. The public is not made aware of what types of projects are done and under what conditions -- we only hear the results. I think we need more public debate about what the boundaries of scientific research ought to be.

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Virginia: Why are Asian countries on the leading edge of cloning research and the U.S. is not?

Dr. Autumn Fiester: I think there are two reasons: funding and culture. Our national science budget is not growing fast enough to keep up with the kind of projects we need to undertake. And, second, there are projects that we would not embrace in the US that seem unobjectionable in other places. For example, the Koreans cloned a human embryo (this is the first step in human reproductive cloning; this is NOT human therapeutic cloning, like what we are talking about with stem cell research); they actually took an enucleated egg and transferred another nucleus into it. They did not implant it, but they created it. That is not something the American public is ready for.

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Fairfax, Va.: Hi!

I seem to remember a company that was launched a few years ago that offered pet owners the opportunity to invest some (thousands?) dollars now and get a clone of their beloved Bowser when the technology became available (now?) Do you know about this sort of venture and were any such monies used to finance this dog cloning project? Just wondering about the business/university research connection. Thanks!

Dr. Autumn Fiester: Yes, there is a company that is cloning cats commercially, and it has sold its first few. Dog cloning is not yet available because only the Korean scientists have been able to achieve it. There is a great deal of research being conducted on dog cloning, and there has been business/university connections on these projects.

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Easier to clone humans?: I enjoyed the sci-fi movie 'The Island'. It's about how rich people pay $5 million to have themselves cloned. And when they need an organ (heart, liver, etc.)it is taken from the clone. The clone of course dies.

I thought this was just good science-fiction, but today's article stated how difficult it is for even brilliant scientists to clone dogs. The article also stated that it's easier to harvest fertile eggs from a woman than a dog. That left me with the impression that it might easier to clone humans. Maybe 'The Island' will actually be close to reality by 2019, the year it takes place.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: It might be easier to get to the embryonic stage in humans than in dogs -- after all, the Koreans did clone a human embryo before they cloned the dog. But even if it is easier to create an embryo, it is likely to be much, much harder to get the embryo to become a viable fetus. The human body is very complex, and the body will usually abort fetuses with even subtle genetic problems, so getting to a live baby would likely be much tougher -- though we all hope no one will try.

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Sausalito, Calif.: In the 1970's when human in vitro fertilization was new, many people objected to so-called "test tube babies" and expressed fear and concern about this new technology. Some of those fears were based on ignorance or myths or science-fiction-type ideas about the technology. Today that controversy has subsided and I think most people regard in vitro fertilization as a useful technology that has increased the quality of life for people who have used it. Do you think the same thing is happening now with cloning in general, or pet cloning in particular? Do myths or misunderstandings play a part in objections to it? Will it generally be accepted some day?

Dr. Autumn Fiester: Yes, there is a certain amount of fearing what's new and unusual going on. But there is also a backdrop of legitimate concerns about both human reproductive cloning and animal welfare issues that we need to take seriously. I think the biggest problem we will have is sorting out which projects we want to support and which ones we ought to condemn. Right now people are either "for" or "against" these technologies. That seems dangerous to me. Let's look case-by-case and decide the ethics on the merits of each particular use of these technologies. In general, I think much of this technology will be accepted in the long-run, but I hope not all. Some projects ought not to be done. Two of my favorite candidates for condemnation are human reproductive cloning, and on the animal front, xenotransplantation.

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Washington, D.C.: Am I right in remembering there was some question about whether Dolly the sheep was actually a clone? Or am I misremembering some controversy?

Dr. Autumn Fiester: I have never heard that. Mainstream scientists accept that she was a clone. But there have been many, many clones since her.

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: The implication from some is that because animal cloning will lead to human cloning, that is a bad thing.

Why is that a bad thing? What, exactly, are the arguments against human cloning?

Dr. Autumn Fiester: There are quite a few arguments against human reproductive cloning but let me give you two. First, there are so many stillbirths and deformities in animal clones, that the risk to a human child is too great. We would never allow anyone to take Thalidomide because we know that it can create birth defects; human reproductive cloning would be worse.

That is reason enough to ban it, but another compelling argument (assuming you could get a healthy child without many others dying) relates to the clone's self-identity and self-worth. How would it feel to be the clone of someone else? Questions like, "Why was I created?" could be psychologically detrimental to the child, especially if the child was cloned because of the death of the "original" twin.

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Washington, D.C.: I have to say the whole thing creeps me out. I believe it was inhumane, and yes, I do think that people should seek shelter pets rather than a breeder for purebreds. Also, as a twin myself (ironically), I find the whole "identical clone" thing freaky, whether it's in humans or animals.

Dr. Autumn Fiester: If you are arguing that prospective pet owners should always go to a shelter for their companion animals and that breeders are morally wrong to breed animals until all shelter animals have been adopted, then you are consistent in your objection to pet cloning. This is a legitimate position, but it is not shared by most people. One question you might think about is why is pet adoption different from human adoption: if I want a biological child, you don't say that I should adopt one of the millions of orphans that exist in the world instead. Why is animal adoption different? It might be, but it is an interesting thing to think about because people seeking pure-breeds or clones want something very specific, just as human parents want a genetic offspring.

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New York, N.Y.: The Post article describes Snuppy as a major step forward in cloning technology. Why is more difficult to clone a dog, as opposed to a pig or sheep? Are there any plans to clone more complex mammals, such as higher primates?

Dr. Autumn Fiester: Not only are their "plans" to clone non-human primates, there have been projects underway for ten years to accomplish this. So far, they haven't succeeded, but it won't be long. The advancement with dogs has to do with the eggs in that species: in dogs, the eggs at ovulation are not mature; in humans and other species they already are. So the "trick" was to mature the eggs outside of the female body. In overcoming this problem, scientists learned more about the reproductive process.

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Washington, D.C.: Dr. Fiester: You gave an incomplete answer to an earlier question, so let me repeat the part you didn't answer: If you clone a 5-year-old dog, will (or might) anything have happened to the dog's DNA that would make the clone genetically (not environmentally) different from its "parent"?

Dr. Autumn Fiester: Yes, this is possible. In fact, a new study of human genetics found that our DNA was constantly changing, and this absolutely has implications for how similar or different a later-born genetic twin will be from the original. In fact, it has implications for genetic twins born at exactly the same time.

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Dr. Autumn Fiester: Thank you all for joining me. This was an excellent set of questions -- thought-provoking and challenging.

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