a PAW web exclusive column
Cloning pets, closer
than you think thanks for Louis Hawthorne '83
Savings & Clone has already cloned a bull and a goat
By Rob MacKay '89
Hawthorne '83 is closing in on the day when endangered species will
no longer face extinction, accomplished thoroughbreds will have
to beat themselves to win major races, and cats will enjoy their
ninth life and continue on to an infinity of reincarnations.
An English major, Hawthorne
is founder and CEO of Genetic Savings & Clone, a commercial
and research leader in the effort to clone animals. With offices
in Mill Valley, California, and laboratories and a ranch in Texas,
GSC has a gene bank that stores DNA from cherished pets, prized
livestock, champion horses, endangered species, and crack rescue
dogs. Soon they will be duplicated, claims Hawthorne.
"Whether your animal
is a champion bull, a rare white tiger, or a beloved mutt, GSC is
the best place to store its DNA and perhaps clone it in the
near future!" reads a stanza from www.savingsandclone.com.
The almost two-year-old
company features a herd of well-respected scientists, medical doctors,
and cryopreservation experts. Hawthorne says that they've already
successfully cloned two bulls and a goat.
But the main focus of
the moment is to clone a benefactor's beloved dog, Missy. The idea
for GSC has roots in a very rich couple with an eccentric love for
their 14-year-old mixture of border collie and Siberian husky. Soon
after the cloned sheep Dolly made international headlines, Missy's
owners, in August of 1998, gave researchers who work out of Texas
A&M $2.3 million to make a carbon copy of their pooch. (Details
of Missy's story are available at www.missyplicity.com).
So far, it's been a
complicated endeavor, says Hawthorne. Dogs have unusual reproductive
cycles, and the eggs of females mature just before the dog goes
into heat, which happens infrequently and unpredictably. Thus, there
is a chronic shortage of canine eggs and female dogs in heat that
can be used as surrogate moms. (The Texas A&M team keeps as
many as 80 female dogs on hand with the hopes of at least one being
in heat at all times.)
Hawthorne gives 50/50
odds that it will be done by the end of 2001. Then the sky's the
limit. "Dogs are difficult. Cats are much easier," he
says. "And if we wanted to clone humans, we'd be done by now.
So much more is known about humans and their genetics...But don't
worry, we're not interested in humans. Even if you could do it without
the ethical risks, there's no money in it." GSC has spent around
$3.7 million so far in research and other expenditures, and cloning
Missy will probably end up costing $5 million before it's a reality,
Once it happens, annual
revenues will skyrocket. GSC has a long list of dog owner clients
whose pets' DNA can be found in company petri dishes, and after
the first reproduction, the process will get easier and cheaper.
"It's kind of like
the Manhattan Project," he says. "The hardest part is
doing it once. It's all downhill from there."
Hawthorne predicts that
after three years, they will be able to offer the service for $10,000-$20,000.
It may eventually become affordable for most pet owners in the U.S.
As D-Day approaches,
Hawthorne says he has no major moral issues with his vocation. GSC
has an advisory board which includes leading experts in the field
of bioethics. The company will never engage in any transgenic or
gene-changing work without the board's approval.
"I'm an ethical
pragmatist," he says. "I'm not concerned with playing
God, my concerns are for the well-being of living beings, and people
really want this."
Rob MacKay is an editor
at a weekly newspaper in Queens called the Timesnewsweekly. He can
be reached at email@example.com