It was basically an aside – an odd and interesting nugget in an interview with Barbra Streisand that otherwise dealt with heavy topics like sexism and politics.
Indeed, most of the 2800-word article about Streisand in Variety is devoted to detailing the actress’ decades-long efforts to break up Hollywood’s boys’ club, as the 90th Academy Awards ceremony approaches with the #MeToo movement as the backdrop.
But it was that one nugget – a brief comment about her dogs – that drew the most attention on Tuesday night.
In her interview with Variety, Streisand revealed that two of her three Coton de Tulear dogs were clones. Specifically, the magazine reported that the dogs – Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett – had been cloned from cells taken from the mouth and stomach of Streisand’s late dog Samantha, who was 14 when she died last year.
Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett “have different personalities”, Streisand told Variety. “I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness.”
Streisand’s third dog, Miss Fanny, is a distant cousin of Samantha’s, the magazine said. (Miss Fanny’s mother, the story noted, had been named Funny Girl.)
If the possibility of cloning your dog intrigues you, there is good news: You do not have to be an incredibly famous and highly acclaimed actor, director, producer and writer to have it done.
You do, however, need at least $US50,000 ($65,000). But first, a little context.
We can clone dogs? Since when?
Even if you are not a close follower of clones, you may recall Dolly the Sheep, who was born in 1996. Since then, researchers have cloned about two dozen other mammal species, including cattle, deer, horses, rabbits, cats, rats – and yes, dogs.
South Korean researchers announced that they had cloned a dog for the first time in 2005, after almost three years of work and more than 1000 eggs. With help from a yellow Labrador retriever who served as the surrogate mother, a cloned male Afghan hound named Snuppy was born. (Snuppy, of course, stood for “Seoul National University puppy”.)
By 2008, a California company had partnered with a South Korean laboratory and made plans to auction off chances to clone five dogs. Later that year, The New York Times reported that the first three puppies from the group had been born in South Korea.
How much does it cost?
Both articles say Sooam Biotech charged about $US100,000 to attempt the process. ViaGen Pets, a company based in Texas, says it charges $US50,000 for the cloning or $US1600 to merely preserve your pet’s genes.
Reports and information on ViaGen’s website suggest that the cloning process – specifically a dog’s pregnancy – usually takes about 60 days.
It was not clear which company Streisand used to create her clones. A publicist for Streisand did not immediately respond to an email or phone message.
But will the cloned dog actually be similar?
Sooam told Business Insider that it can clone any dog, regardless of age, size or breed. NPR, though, reported that cloned animals aren’t exact replicas of original dogs.
Researchers at the South Korean lab told the station that the dogs it had cloned have been healthy – and had almost always looked and acted like the dogs they were cloned from.
“Cats and dogs delivered by cloning have the same genes as their donor pets and will be the closest match possible to the donor,” ViaGen said on its website. “This is best described as identical twins born at a later date.”
“The environment does interact with genetics to impact many traits such as personality and behaviour,” the company continued.
Is it safe?
That also depends – mostly on how you define “safe”.
In essence, the process involves getting a genetic sample from your dog, sending the sample to the lab, and letting the scientists put the sample through a process that fuses it with an egg. Eventually, the egg develops into an embryo; and that embryo is then transferred to the surrogate, who surgeons hope will give birth.
At the Korean lab, the process requires operating on the egg donor and the surrogate mother – two dogs rented from a lab-animal provider. And, at least in the case of Sooam Biotech, it’s not clear what happens after those dogs are no longer needed.
The company also told the media outlets that the cloning process works only about 33 to 40 per cent of the time, which means there is strong potential for miscarriages.
Far from the medical labs, Streisand told Variety that she loves sharing her Malibu home with Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett. At least from that vantage point, the process seemed to work out just fine. Because, really, whatever your genes, who wouldn’t want to live in a place with an ocean view?
-The New York Times