“So your dog is getting on in years, and dogs don’t live as long as humans. Do you ever wish your dog could be young and healthy again, with many happy years of life ahead? It’s no longer a dream. Our patented service creates a clone of your beloved companion that will be identical in virtually every respect. Now you can enjoy years more with your best friend.”
I don’t actually have a dog cloning service, but such a service does exist in the US. If you’ve got $50,000, a company will take a DNA sample of your dog and grow a clone. The question isn’t can you do it, but should you do it?
The cloning service works by taking a sample of your dog’s DNA through a small tissue sample. It then extracts the nucleus from a cell, which contains the genetic information, and implants it in a donor egg. The egg then gets implanted into a surrogate mother and forms the embryo which is eventually born as a genetic twin of your original dog.
Once the cloned dog is mature enough and shown to be healthy, they pass it on to you. Now you have a perfect copy of your best friend. Or do you?
Let’s stop and consider what would and wouldn’t be the same. The genome of the clone would of course be identical to that of the original dog. The rest, it turns out, is variable.
Phenotype is the set of all qualities we can observe about an individual. Genotype is the DNA of the individual. Phenotype depends on genotype, but it also depends on the environment. Here, the environment refers to everything outside of the dog itself.
Take an example: If your original dog was strong and healthy, but you forgot to feed the clone, it would shrivel up and die. That’s extreme, but it brings the point home. Genotype defines the possibilities for an individual, but not its destiny.
Let’s assume now that you remember to feed the clone, take it on walks, and give it all of the care it needs. Then you can expect certain parts of the phenotype to be the same as the original. It will have the same number of legs, the same color eyes, the same fur, the same length of tail, and so on. In short, it will look a lot like the original.
But how similar would it really be? There’s one aspect that can’t be replicated, at least with current technology: the mind. Yes, a brain will grow in the clone, and it will have the same basic physical characteristics, but brains change and adjust to their experience. The mind of the clone will not exactly match that of the original dog.
Would it be close? Again, that depends on the environment. If the clone was treated in a similar way to the original dog, you can expect similar behavior. For example, if both dogs grew up seeing strangers who were friendly and non-threatening, they would likely both be comfortable when new people arrived. If, on the other hand, the clone didn’t have those chances to socialize, or perhaps met some cruel strangers, it could be fearful or even hostile towards new people.
On the subtler points of socialization, we run into an even bigger problem. Even if you raised the original dog and also raised the clone, the second time around you will be older and not be quite the same you. Dogs aren’t as intelligent as humans, but they are social animals and can pick up on some social cues. Do you have all of the same social characteristics now as you had ten years ago? Probably not.
Why not just copy the mind of the dog along with the rest of the body? Well, it can’t be done with DNA alone. Copying a mind using just DNA is like trying to clone a sheep from nothing but a photograph of the sheep (assuming it hasn’t chewed on the photograph and left its DNA there).
One could imagine downloading the mind from the original dog and uploading it to the clone. But that’s the stuff of science fiction, at least for now.
So what are we left with? You could have a dog that looks uncannily similar to your original dog and, if you arrange things well, acts about the same. Is it worth it? That depends on the size of your pocketbook and what you care about in a dog.
Is it the color of the fur and the length of the tail? Or is it the loyalty and affection you share? The way I see it, you can clone a dog, but you can’t clone your best friend. For that reason, I would suggest saving your money and going with a rescue animal.