Science | Design & Technology | Citizenship

Alarm over rising demand for replica pets

What could be more natural? If your best friend is a dog and they die, why not order an exact copy? But scientists are deeply worried about it. Thanks to science, we may never have to say goodbye to our pets. A US company promises to clone them and give us a "love that lasts forever". This year, ViaGenThe company bought the intellectual property to cloning technology from the Scottish research centre that cloned Dolly the sheep. sold Kelly Anderson a copy of her cat Chai for £19,000. "Chai was my soulmate," she says. This science is not new. In 1996, DollyNamed after singer-songwriter Dolly Parton, the sheep was produced accidentally by the Roslin Institute in Scotland. She died in 2003, aged 6.5 years. the sheep became the first cloned mammal. Copy Cat was born in 2002. And Snuppy, the world's first puppy clone, three years later. It's a difficult process. Scientists take the DNA of the pet and put it into another animal's egg. A third animal then gives birth to the cloned pet. Anderson's cat had 64,000 followers on Instagram. But not everyone was happy about the replica. "I get dozens of hate messages every day," she says. So why are people angry? Over 15,000 years ago, humans domesticated dogs. We bred them to be tame and loving. For its supporters, cloning uses genetics to do the same thing. ViaGen says their customers "want to carry on that strong bond with the pet". And if they can afford it, why not? "It takes advantage of people's grief," says scientist George Church. Instead of accepting the truth, owners try to cheat death. But there is an "underclass" of suffering animals, says Bioethicist Jessica Pierce. Many clones are born with defects and die early. The mothers have traumatic pregnancies. And the pet's memories are not copied. The new animal has a different personality. Or, as Barbra StreisandIn 2018, the American singer revealed she had cloned her dog Sammie to make three clones called Miss Fanny, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett. says: "You can clone the look of a dog, but you can't clone the soul." For now, only the rich can buy clones. But ViaGen says: "we're cloning more every year" and annual spending on pets has reached record levels — almost £75bn in the US and £7.5bn in the UK. Most of us have a pet and they will not live forever. So more of us may soon face this tough question. Is it wrong to clone a pet dog? Copycat Yes: It is wrong to spend so much money on cloning a dead pet when living animals are in need. Clones don't have the same personality or memories, so this is a selfish waste of time.

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