Heard of Dolly the sheep? Meet Nubia, the cloned Jack Russell
On Sept. 1, 2016, ViaGen Pets delivered the first American-born cloned puppy, a Jack Russell Terrier named Nubia, to her owner. With that delivery ViaGen became the first American company to offer pet cloning services in compliance with U.S. regulatory standards and humane pet care practices, according to a release from the company.
ViaGen anticipates increased demand for cloning and genetic preservation of companion pet DNA in the near future. The price tag? Fifty thousand dollars for a cloned puppy and $25,000 for a cloned kitten. Pet owners who want to preserve the option for the future can have their pet’s DNA cryopreserved for for $1,600 plus $150 per year.
So how does it work? The veterinarian takes a skin punch biopsy—four samples from the ventral abdomen is ideal, ViaGen representatives say—and sends them to the company to produce a cell line. Samples can be taken at any point during a pet’s life or after death if collected within a few hours or the body is refrigerated, company representatives say.
The cells are developed into cloned embryos, which are placed in a surrogate selected according to the pet’s expected birth weight. The surrogate carries the fetus to term and stays with it until weaning. After a veterinary exam produces a clean bill of health, the ViaGen team delivers the cloned pet to its owner.
ViaGen characterizes a cloned pet as the original pet’s “identical twin separated in time.” The company emphasizes to clients that phenotype is a combination of genetics and environment, so the clone may have differences resulting from differences in environment, but that many of the personality traits pet owners love are indeed genetic.
“I am the owner of a cloned stallion, says Blake Russell, ViaGen Pets CEO. “I don’t want to overstate, but it is remarkable how similar he is to the original horse.”
Joel Ehrenzweig, DVM, who consults with ViaGen, maintains that offering cloning and cryopreservation options to grieving pet owners can mitigate the effects of emotional stress experienced by many veterinary professionals.
“Losing a pet can be devastating. Talking to bereaved pet owners about genetic preservation and cloning is a win-win for veterinary practitioners looking to offer compassionate options that soften the finality of pet loss,” Ehrenzweig says in the ViaGen release. “ViaGen Pets technology can help dissipate compassion fatigue within a practice by offering end-of-life options and facilitating client transition through the grief process.”
To produce a clone, the technician replaces the nucleus of a donor egg with one of the founder’s frozen cells. ViaGen’s proprietary treatment process joins this egg and cell together to produce an embryo, which a ViaGen embryologist then implants in a surrogate mom. An identical genetic twin is delivered after a normal gestation period. Research has shown that cloned animals have the same health traits and life expectancy as other pets.
ViaGen has been cloning horses and livestock for more than a decade.