Lancaster University

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Pet cloning debate

07/06/2006 08:36:36

A Lancaster University expert is calling for a public debate on the use of new genetic technologies in animal breeding in the wake of recent scientific advances.

In the US genetic scientists are now able to clone a lost pet using a DNA sample, and have begun to explore the procedure’s suitability in animal agriculture. Animal cloning however is only presently approved in the UK if it is seen as useful for medical research.

Other developments include xenotransplantation - the possibility of breeding animals, usually pigs, for human organ transplantation - and biopharming - producing modified animals which yield medicines in their milk or eggs.

Social scientist Dr Richard Twine is investigating the ethical implications of these genetic technologies at Lancaster University’s Centre for Economic and Social Aspects of Genomics.

He said it is worrying that there is presently no public debate in the UK on the application of genetic technologies to animal breeding

He said: “We had a GM crop debate in the 1990s but GM animals were left out and the public need to have an input because scientists themselves are just as divided about this issue.

“The government would be well advised to begin this process now, to allow for a meaningful democratic interaction between science and society.”

A company in the US is offering to clone your favourite dog or cat for $33,000 with the firm’s first cloned cat named Copycat. Such entrepreneurship takes place in spite of continued scientific uncertainty about the health of cloned animals.

He said: “You only have to look at the emergence of pet cemeteries and pet insurance to note how our relationships to some animals have changed. In many cases they’re part of our families and it’s important to consider the impact this is having on our relationship with them.

“It may be seen as socially positive to gain greater knowledge and respect for the lives of animals, though it may seem disrespectful to do this in a manner which essentially humanises them. Moreover this may leave a minority of us exposed to such schemes as pet cloning, when we’d be far better adopting a new unwanted pet especially given that the clone will not even necessarily look like your original pet or behave like them.

“We’ve modified animals through selective breeding for a long time; genomics means this process can be made more accurate, and genetic modification potentially takes the ability of humans to manipulate animal life much further still. Ultimately we need to reflect upon the reasons why we should want this further level of control and whether genetic technologies are the best means to pursue innovation in agriculture and medicine”.