Animals & Money: $110,000 (plus shipping) to clone Fido

Dog Clones invade plantet earthBioArts International, a California-based biotech start-up, is hoping to kick-start commercial dog-cloning with five successive daily auctions for the service starting July 5.

The opening bid is $100,000 for the first auction, with a 10% buyer's premium. In each of the successive auctions, the opening bid goes up by $20,000. So by the last auction on July 9, you'd need $180,000, plus 10%. Talk about inflation:

Plus you have to either pick up your puppy in Korea, or pay to have him shipped home.

The same guy ran another genetics company (Genetic Savings & Clone) a few years ago and offered cat cloning for $32,000. (That company went under in 2006 after cloning two cats.)

Before we talk about the fascinating peculiarities of this process, I do feel like I have to point out that we're not exactly running out of dogs here. We euthanize nearly 10 million dogs and cats a year. On the other hand, I understand the desire. My dog Jolly is a grumpy 14 years old. As I always tell him, he is the best dog in the world: loving, loyal, clever, funny, brave, silly and handsome. I would do practically anything to extend my time with him. I'd love to be able to see Jolly as a puppy since I adopted him when he was past two. But this isn't that magic opportunity. For starters I don't have $110,000 to spare. But more importantly what makes Jolly Jolly is his life and experience, as lousy as that might have been to start (he was found in a drug dealer's backyard.) A clone would only get me a handsome dog, not Jolly.

Ok, enough about the serious implications. Let's get to the grotesque details. First the financials. You have to have cash or credit of $250,000 just to sign up to bid. If you win, you have three days to put the money in a Wells Fargo trust. They only take the money out if you accept a healthy puppy -- except for some deposit fees.Then you have to get a genetic sample from your dog -- if you don't already have one stashed away in a cryo-lab. Hair, nails or even blood aren't good enough. They want tissue. For live dogs, you may need anesthesia to take a "6mm biopsy tool," turn it on their shaved skin and pull to just below the skin. For dead dogs, you can just cut out a 1cm by 3 cm strip. Oh, and you need four samples.

After all that you ship your dog's DNA off to Korea and wait -- up to a year. If all goes well, you get an eight-week old puppy that they guarantee will look like your dog. You can either pick the dog up at the Soamm Biotech Foundation near Seoul or have BioArts ship the dog to you. They won't send the dog in cargo, so they may even hire a private jet.

Soamm is the facility that first cloned Snuppy, an afghan, in 2005. The lab's leader, Hwang Woo-Suk, fabricated some of his data on human embryo clones and is almost inevitably described as "disgraced." But his dog cloning work still stands.

I don't expect many people to sign up for this auction. Not because they don't want their dog cloned. Even though the deal is structured so you don't lose (much) money if you don't get a good clone, I suspect people savvy enough to have a quarter million lying around will be wary if they're really ready. Snuppy was the only survivor of 1,095 embryos. You may have to punch a lot of 6mm holes in your dog for that.

More tempting will be their essay contest for a free dog cloning.
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