Saturday, May 31, 2008

Got $100k? Enter to Win a Canine Clone

Do I hear $100,000?



For the right price, a California biotech startup will clone dogs for five lucky bidders in the world’s first commercial dog cloning program. BioArts International opens a series of online auctions June 18, when people around the world can bid to have their four-legged friends “duplicated.” Bidding starts at $100,000.

BioArts chief executive Lou Hawthorne, who recently succeeded in a decade-long quest to clone his family dog, spearheads the program. Hawthorne (pictured with his cloned dogs) partners with Hwang Woo-suk, a South Korean scientist who led the effort to produce the world’s first canine clone in 2005. Hwang is also known for a series of embezzlement and bioethics law violations linked to fake stem cell research.

News of the BioArts auction is sure to spark debate among dog owners for both its controversy and opportunity. One one hand, the Humane Society argues that commercial pet cloning has no social value and may lead to increased animal suffering. On the other, Hawthorne views biotechnology as path to happiness for pet owners.

But can the scientists at BioArts duplicate an animal’s personality? When I was young, my family’s dog passed away after a long battle with cancer. I was devastated; I had grown up with Sam around, and his unique personality was a big part of our family. Even if cloning were possible at the time, I doubt the process could have replicated Sam the way we knew him.

The debate over pet cloning also raises the issue of homeless animals. The Humane Society makes a strong case for animal adoption over animal replication. Wouldn’t pet owners be doing society (and the animals involved) a favor to adopt animals from shelters rather than pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into an attempt at producing a genetic duplicate?

Will Hawthorne and his team at BioArts oversee an international bidding war of dramatic proportions in June? Or will the price of cloning prove to be too high for an untested market? Whether pet owners have $100k to spare or not, the auction will surely get people thinking—and arguing—about the ethics of pet cloning.

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