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Are clone dogs real?

Barbra Streisand Explains: Why I Cloned My Dog

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Two of Barbra Streisand’s dogs, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, are clones of her late dog Sammie.

By Barbra Streisand

  • March 2, 2018

In a frank and lengthy interview in Variety this week, Barbra Streisand dropped one very notable aside: that two of her dogs were clones of a previous dog, Samantha, who had recently died. Here, Ms. Streisand explains how this medical marvel, born of sadness, came to pass.

I was so devastated by the loss of my dear Samantha, after 14 years together, that I just wanted to keep her with me in some way. It was easier to let Sammie go if I knew I could keep some part of her alive, something that came from her DNA. A friend had cloned his beloved dog, and I was very impressed with that dog. So Sammie’s doctor took some cells from inside her cheek and the skin on her tummy just before she died. And we sent those cells to ViaGen Pets in Texas. We weren’t even sure if the cells would take.

Meanwhile I missed Sammie so much that I went out and adopted a rescue dog. She was a little Maltipoo and I named her Sadie, after the first dog I ever owned, given to me by the cast of “Funny Girl” on my 22nd birthday.

Then I got a call from Sammie’s breeder, who said, “I know how upset you are. If you’re interested, I have this little puppy, the only one in the litter, and her mother’s name is Funny Girl.” It felt like fate, as if it was meant to be. How could I refuse that little girl? So I took her, too, and named her Miss Fanny.

Ms. Streisand and Sammie in 2004. Credit. Alberto Tolot

She’s a straight-haired Coton de Tulear, like most people want. My Sammie was curly haired and that’s why my husband initially picked her out for me as an anniversary present — she was the odd one, different, just like I felt as a little girl. One of the reasons I chose cloning was because I couldn’t find another curly-haired Coton.

And then I got a call from the lab. Not only did the cloning process take, but it produced four puppies! Unfortunately the runt of the litter died before the puppies were old enough to be delivered to me.

But still, five dogs were too much for me to handle, as a person who was used to taking my dog everywhere with me, and who never had more than one dog at a time living in my house.

My manager’s assistant really wanted Sadie, and I knew she would give her a good home. And then the 13-year-old daughter of my A&R man bonded with one of the clones, so I gave them that puppy. It was hard to part with both dogs, but since they were going to close friends I knew I could keep each dog in the family, so to speak, and I can still watch over them as they grow.

So now I have three puppies at home, Miss Fanny, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, and it’s a bit overwhelming. But we love them so much. Each puppy is unique and has her own personality.

You can clone the look of a dog, but you can’t clone the soul. Still, every time I look at their faces, I think of my Samantha. and smile.

The Real Reasons You Shouldn’t Clone Your Dog


Three years ago, CheMyong Jay Ko received a call from a distraught older man. Ko, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s College of Veterinary Medicine, listened as the caller told him that his dog had just rushed into traffic and been struck by a truck, killing it immediately. He had called Ko with a simple but urgent question: Would it be possible to clone his beloved pet?

For Ko, the call wasn’t as peculiar as you might think. After all, he has studied genetics and cloning for genetics and physiology for more than 20 years. So he had a ready answer: yes, cloning was possible.

Naturally, there was a catch. Cloning requires cells that contain enough intact DNA. But animal tissue begins to degrade soon after death as bacteria start to gnaw away at newly defenseless cells. Ko knew that they had to act quickly if they were going to have a chance to preserve the animal’s genetic material. He and two of his students piled into a van and drove an hour to the man’s home, where they took skin cells from the recently deceased pup.

Back in the lab, he and his team revived and cultured some of the cells from their samples. Theoretically, they now had the material to create a genetic double of the dead dog. In practice, of course, things were about to get a lot more complicated.

The Real Reasons You Shouldn

Scientists have known that mammal cloning was feasible since 1996, when Dolly the sheep was born. Since then, they quickly moved on to trying to other animals: mice, cattle, pigs, goats, rabbits, cats. But due to differences in the canine reproductive process, dogs proved a trickier challenge.

After several failed attempts, the first successful experiment in dog cloning took place in 2005, when a South Korean team managed to produce a pair of Afghan hound puppies from the ear-skin of a dog named Tai. One of the newborns died soon after, of pneumonia. But the second cloned dog, which the team named Snuppy, lived for an impressive 10 years. Snuppy was deemed a “revolutionary breakthrough in dog cloning” and one of the most amazing “inventions” of the year by Time magazine. Ko was an adviser on the South Korean team.

At the time, researchers were debating whether cloning produces animals that age faster or have higher risks of disease compared to their cell donor. Dolly died at 6, around half the age of the average sheep, from lung disease and arthritis; Snuppy died of the same cancer that had killed Tai at age 12. In 2017, The South Korean team explored this issue in a paper in Nature on their attempt to produce clones from Snuppy’s own stem cells. Their ongoing research hopes to “study the health and longevity of cloned animals compared with their cell donors.”

The science of dog cloning has advanced considerably since the researchers first presented Snuppy to the world. Today, there are a handful of commercial companies and institutions, many of them located in South Korea, committed to bringing cloning to ordinary pet owners—for a price. One of them, the United States-based Viagen, charges $50,000 before taxes, paid in two installments, to clone your dog. (In case you were wondering, they also clone cats, for $25,000).

Ultimately, Ko’s anguished septuagenarian didn’t end up cloning his dog after all. According to Ko, it was the price that turned him off. (For now, his dog’s cells are still sitting in a freezer, unused but theoretically still useable, should he change his mind.)

But many wealthy pet owners are willing to shill out for these rarefied services. No doubt the most famous is Barbara Streisand. Last month, the singer and filmmaker shocked the Internet when she told Variety that two of her three dogs, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlet, had been cloned from cells taken from the mouth and stomach of her fluffy, white, recently deceased Coton de Tulear, Samantha. Samantha, or Sammie, had passed away the previous May.

As Streisand wrote a few days later, in an op-ed in the New York Times:

I was so devastated by the loss of my dear Samantha, after 14 years together, that I just wanted to keep her with me in some way. It was easier to let Sammie go if I knew I could keep some part of her alive, something that came from her DNA. A friend had cloned his beloved dog, and I was very impressed with that dog.

If you spend enough time reading about pet cloning, you’ll see that adjective come up over and over again: beloved. When people clone their animals, they do so because they love them—and because they can’t stand the prospect of losing them forever. The average American dog lives between 7 and 15 years. With that perspective, the price may seem more reasonable. What is $50,000, if it saves you the immeasurable pain of saying goodbye to a beloved family member?

Talk to experts about what cloning actually entails, however, and you’ll begin to realize that the costs are steeper than most realize—and go far beyond money.

“I understand the impulse behind trying to keep your dog in perpetuity,” says Alexandra Horowitz, head of Columbia University’s Canine Cognition Lab and author of the 2010 book Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. “One of the great sadnesses about living with dogs is that the time we live with them is so short. Unfortunately, you have to overlook a huge amount about the process—to say nothing about what cloning actually is—to be satisfied with the results.”

The process of cloning is simple enough. It begins with cultured cells, like those Ko retrieved from his bereaved caller’s former companion. Next, scientists extract unfertilized eggs from another, unrelated dog, removing them from its fallopian tubes. That animal generally isn’t harmed, though the procedure is invasive.

“We take the eggs out and bring them into the laboratory. There we manually remove their nucleus,” Ko says. “We can use a fine pipette needle to remove [them] and suck the nucleus out.” (Think of sucking a boba pearl out of milk tea with a straw.) This process strips the eggs of the genetic material that they contain, making the egg cell essentially a blank slate for scientists to fill with DNA of their choosing. Scientists can also achieve a similar effect with a targeted blast of ultraviolet light, which destroys the genetic material.

Scientists then take one of the cultured somatic cells from the animal that they’re seeking to clone and carefully insert it into the egg with a needle. In a Frankensteinian twist, they hit the composite egg with an electric burst that “fuses” the two together.

“Through that, the nucleus from the donor cell will become part of the egg,” says Ko. “Now the nucleus from the donor cell will behave like the nucleus of the egg.” There’s one critical difference. Unlike an unfertilized egg, which has half of the necessary genetic information to make a new life—the other half is in the sperm cell—you already have a full set of genetic information, just as you would in a viable embryo.

The electrical burst also jumpstarts cell division. After a few days, assuming that the process successfully takes hold, the lab can then surgically implant the cells into yet another animal: a surrogate dog mother. Treated with hormones, and sometimes made to “mate” with vasectomized male dogs, these surrogates can, under ideal circumstances, carry the pregnancies to term. Often, surrogates then go on to carry other cloned pregnancies.

If you were ever considering cloning your dog, this process may already have you hesitating. But things are about to get even more questionable, morally.

Even not counting the original egg donor and surrogate, the cloning process still requires numerous dogs to produce a single clone. Consider: Many cloned pregnancies don’t take hold in the uterus or die shortly after birth, as was the case with Snuppy’s twin. Snuppy and his twin were two of only three pregnancies that resulted from more than 1,000 embryos implanted into 123 surrogates.

“You need a good number of dogs to do this type of cloning,” Ko acknowledges, though he adds that the success rate has gone up in the intervening years. “I would say it’s about 20 percent. Very high.”

As Ko and his co-authors note, there may be legitimate reasons to clone animals. For instance, you might want to make many of the same dogs for research, replicate service dogs with rare and desirable abilities, or clone endangered species for conservation. Yet many animal advocates and ethicists still raise strong objections. “The process of cloning basically creates an industry of what I think of as farmed dogs,” Horowitz tells me.

Bioethicist Jessica Pierce has also argued against the practice, writing in the New York Times that the cloning industry has produced “a whole canine underclass that remains largely invisible to us but whose bodies serve as a biological substrate.”

Even if one is willing to overlook the suffering of animals harvested for their eggs and co-opted into pregnancy, questions still arise. Key among them may be what pet owners think they’re getting when they clone a “beloved” animal.

Centuries of selective breeding have left many with the misconception that a dog’s genetic makeup determines its personality. “In a way, cloning companies are preying on this ignorance, if you will, about what’s actually going on scientifically,” Pierce tells me over the phone. “And that’s unfortunate. Unethical.” Genetic preservation companies feature names like «PerPETuate, Inc.» which would seem to imply the indefinite continuance of the cloned animal.

Horowitz agrees. “There might be some breed tendencies, and there certainly are tendencies that a genome will avail that makes a cloned dog maybe likelier than some other non-genetically similar dog to do a kind of thing,” she says. “But everything that matters to us about the personality of a dog is not in those genes. Everything is in the interaction of that genome with the environment, starting from the time they’re in utero—just as with humans.”

For those who love the dogs they’ve lived with, this should be a critical point. You adore this animal—not because of its genetics, but because it became the creature that it is through time spent with you. While a clone may perfectly replicate its genome, it won’t be the same dog because it won’t have the same life, a life that it lived in your company. In almost every way that matters, then, they’re different dogs.

Even Streisand implicitly admits as much, telling Variety that her two cloned pups “have different personalities” than Samantha—and, presumably, each other. “Each puppy is unique and has her own personality,” she writes in the Times. “You can clone the look of a dog, but you can’t clone the soul.” The jury is out on the ethics of what she did with her dogs, but on this point, she’s right.

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Disgraced Scientist Clones Dogs, And Critics Question His Intent

Rob Stein, photographed for NPR, 22 January 2020, in Washington DC.

A surgical team at Sooam Biotech in Seoul, South Korea, injects cloned embryos into the uterus of an anesthetized dog.

The Sooam Biotech Research Foundation’s sleek marble building is on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea. After passing through a guarded gate, visitors climb the steps to the entrance and a big door with tinted glass slides open.

«Hello, sir. Nice to meet you, sir,» says David Kim, a researcher at the laboratory. «You can follow me. We can go into the clean room. It’s the laboratory where we do the procedures — the cloning.»

Sooam Biotech is the only lab in the world that makes genetically identical copies — clones — of dogs for pet owners. Nearly 20 years ago, when Dolly the sheep became the first mammal ever cloned from a mature cell taken from an adult animal, many people feared the advance would lead to human cloning.

That hasn’t happened. But scientists have cloned several other species since, including cattle, rabbits, mules and cats. The success rates and health of the cloned animals has varied from species to species; Sooam’s scientists seem to be the only ones to figure out how to clone dogs.

For $100,000, anyone who has a cell from any dog can attempt to get a clone. The lab says it has cloned more than 600 dogs so far. Many of these clones are created for grieving pet owners, but some are being used by police agencies, including the South Korean National Police Agency.

Dr. Hwang Woo Suk founded Sooam’s dog cloning service. But he is better known for announcing in 2004 that his research team had cloned the first human embryos. Other scientists found that claim to be fraudulent. Rob Stein/NPR hide caption

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Rob Stein/NPR

Dr. Hwang Woo Suk founded Sooam’s dog cloning service. But he is better known for announcing in 2004 that his research team had cloned the first human embryos. Other scientists found that claim to be fraudulent.

Sooam’s dog-cloning service is controversial. It was started by Hwang Woo Suk, who became a scientific pariah in 2006, when his claim that he had created the first cloned human embryos in 2004 to produce human embryonic stem cells was discovered to be fraudulent.

But no one doubts that Hwang is cloning dogs. The big question is: Why? For the money? To fund other research? To reclaim the spotlight? Hwang refused several requests by NPR for an interview, but he agreed to let me tour the facility with Kim, to see how the process is done.

After we change into rubber slippers and blue jumpsuits, Kim leads me into a darkened room that’s crowded with technicians peering into microscopes. Kim points to a flat screen on the wall that shows a live feed of what’s happening in a petri dish under one microscope. There’s a big blob near the center of the dish.

«What you see here on the screen is the egg,» Kim says, explaining that to clone one dog, scientists start with an egg from another dog. «The small, blue shining dot that you see is the genetic material, which we will take out now.»

A technician gently pierces the egg’s outer membrane with a tiny glass tube and withdraws the genetic material.

A Sooam Biotech technician prepares to zap an egg that’s been re-injected with a skin cell from a donor dog. The tiny shock can be enough to prompt the egg to start dividing and developing into a viable dog embryo. Rob Stein/NPR hide caption

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Rob Stein/NPR

A Sooam Biotech technician prepares to zap an egg that’s been re-injected with a skin cell from a donor dog. The tiny shock can be enough to prompt the egg to start dividing and developing into a viable dog embryo.

«We can see how the DNA is being extracted,» Kim says. «So now, what we are left with is a blank egg, in a sense.»

Next, the technician injects another tiny blob into the blank egg. It’s a skin cell from the animal that’s being cloned. A single skin cell contains all the DNA needed to create a genetically identical clone.

«We will insert one cell per egg,» Kim says. «With this, the procedure is done.»

Well, almost. After that another technician zaps the egg with a tiny bit of electricity.

«After you zap it, it will start developing — dividing and developing — into an early embryo,» Kim says. «It’s at the stage of early embryonic development.»

Within days, if all goes well, the embryos will be ready for transfer into the uterus of another female dog — a surrogate mother.

Kim heads to another part of the lab, stopping on a platform in front of a huge window that overlooks an operating room. Two big brown dogs lie unconscious on tables, each mostly covered by a green tarp. The dogs have tubes down their throats, and their long, pink tongues dangle to the side.

A half-dozen people in blue scrubs and surgical masks scurry around; bits of conversation are audible through a monitor on the wall.

«Are you ready?» one of the surgeons asks the team. He leans over a small opening in the tarp and makes an incision that will give him access to the dog’s ovaries.

«We are going to flush out the eggs,» Kim explains.

After a few minutes, when the surgeon steps away from the operating table and pulls down his mask, I can see that it’s Hwang Woo Suk — the scientist who runs the lab.

«We got 15 eggs from both sides of the ovaries,» Hwang says.

They’ll take those eggs back to the microscope room, in hopes of turning them into cloned dog embryos.

Hwang moves over to the second dog and starts cutting. She’s there to become the surrogate mother for a cloned puppy.

«This is our final process of embryo transfer — using an embryo-loaded catheter,» Hwang explains.

After just a few seconds he’s injected several previously created embryos into the dog’s uterus and steps away from the table.

A litter of puppies created at Sooam Biotech. Though clones share the same genes, they aren’t exact replicas; developmental changes have an effect on markings, for example. Ron Stein/NPR hide caption

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Ron Stein/NPR

A litter of puppies created at Sooam Biotech. Though clones share the same genes, they aren’t exact replicas; developmental changes have an effect on markings, for example.

«Hopefully we can get cloned puppies after 61 days,» he says. That’s how long a dog pregnancy usually lasts.

The next stop on the tour is a long, bright kennel room. Puppies paw at the glass doors of each stall — a Boston terrier bound for the United States, a black female pug, a couple of male Pomeranians and a pair of Yorkshire terriers headed for Ireland.

Some newborn cloned puppies are still with their surrogate mothers in another kennel downstairs, in the process of being weaned. Others are outside getting some exercise. All the animals look healthy and happy. But critics have some big concerns about this procedure.

For one thing, this cloning process works only about a third of the time. So, getting a cloned puppy entails a lot of attempts and a lot of miscarriages. And the process requires many dogs — some to provide the eggs, and others to serve as surrogates.

«I think you really need to think twice about it in terms of animal welfare,» says Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University. «Dog owners should really be aware of the potential harm to dogs that could be produced during this process.»

What’s more, most cloned animals end up pretty sickly — which raises further questions about the cloning process.

Cloning Your Dog, For A Mere $100,000

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Cloning Your Dog, For A Mere $100,000

«The cloning process is imperfect. It doesn’t completely reset the DNA to an embryonic state,» Huyn says. «So depending on how imperfect that process is, you have different ailments that will befall the dog — many of them might die at an early age.»

And even when the process works perfectly, the cloned animals aren’t exact replicas of the originals. Environmental influences, including some that help determine when particular genes are turned on and off during development, play a role in how closely the resulting clone mimics the original dog.

«They may not even look like your beloved pet,» Hyun says.

Hyun also worries that Hwang is using his dog-cloning services as a way to try to rehabilitate his career and eventually be allowed to return to doing research involving human cells.

«I’m a little bit wary of the idea that he’s still trying to do research and publish in scientific journals,» Hyun says. «And some have even suggested that over time, he may make a comeback in the human research arena. I just don’t think someone like him can be trusted to follow the rules appropriately.»

Although reputable scientists say Hwang committed fraud, he has always maintained that he did clone stem cells; during the tour Kim shows off what he claims is the original line of these cells.

Kim also says all cloned dogs born so far have been perfectly healthy — and almost always look and act a lot like the dogs they were cloned from. Kim also says Sooam Biotech takes good care of the donor and surrogate dogs, though he wouldn’t say where the lab gets these animals or what happens to them after they are no longer needed.

Kim tells me the lab is using the cloning techniques its staff developed to clone dogs for other research — including creating animal models of Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, in hopes of finding treatments for the human illnesses.

Scientists at Sooam are also trying to save endangered species, Kim says, and even hope to one day re-create extinct ones — like the woolly mammoth.

In response to those who question the dog research, Kim says Sooam is just offering something that people want.

«Among the domestic animals that share a deep relationship with humans, you know, they say that dogs are a man’s best friend,» he says. «So there is a demand for it.»

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