May 21, 2008 -- When Mira, husky and border collie mix, was born six months ago, she didn't just look like her biological mother. She was an exact copy — even down to her personality, according to owner Lou Hawthorne.
That's because Mira was cloned from her mother, Missy.
"This is just an alternative way of initiating life. And after that, it's life as we have known it and do know it," said Hawthorne, CEO of BioArts International, the company that cloned the dog, on "Good Morning America" in a broadcast exclusive.
It is only the second time a dog has been cloned and the first time a U.S. company has done it. BioArts International, which plans to publish its research in scientific journals, sits on the cutting edge of science, in part because it's opening the door to commercial cloning.
The feat represents a chance for dog owners to keep their best friends around indefinitely in an unconventional way — an interesting proposition for those who view their pets as an integral family member and never want to part with them.
Hawthorne has spent more than $20 million and 10 years in pursuit of dog cloning. Missy, Hawthorne's family dog who died in 2002 at age 15, has been the subject of extensive cloning research since the Missyplicity Project began in 1997.
Now Hawthorne's startup, BioArts International, is offering pet owners the opportunity to replicate their prized dogs. The company is taking bids for five cloned dogs. The auction, part of a program Hawthorne calls Best Friends Again, will end June 18. The top five bidders will win the chance to clone the dog of their choice.
The idea is pleasing to people like Cindy Blom, who said she would consider cloning her dog, Perry Como.
"He's the right size. He's very handsome and he has a great personality. It's hard to get all that in one package," she said of her beloved pet.
Those types of sentiments are part of what BioArts International seized upon when it considered the idea of entering the dog cloning business. Though the company still isn't committed totally to cloning dogs as a full-time service, the auction will serve as an indicator of how much people are interested in the idea and the price people are willing to pay for a cloned pet.
Hawthorne suspects the auction could net six-figure bids per animal.
But making a cloned dog is by no means simple. Unlike the famed cloned sheep Dolly or even a cat, replicating your favorite pooch is much more difficult because its reproductive systems are incredibly complex.
Viable eggs are needed for cloning and those only are produced when a dog is in heat. That only happens twice a year. And once a dog goes into heat, doctors only have a short time, about an hour, to extract the delicate eggs from the donor dog's fallopian tubes.
Hawthorne said only through sophisticated blood testing is it possible to know the exact moment to operate to retrieve to the eggs.
Once scientists have the eggs, they are stripped of their nuclei. The nucleus acts as a genetic road map.
Meanwhile, a DNA sample is taken from the dog to be cloned.
In Missy's case, her cheek and abdomen were swabbed to get her DNA. That genetic material was then implanted in a donor egg.
The egg was given an electrical jolt — a chemical reaction that creates an electrical charge and reanimates the egg after the new DNA material is placed. And finally, the egg is implanted in a surrogate dog.
According to Hawthorne, his company has had a 25 percent success rate with the process. In fact, Missy has three clones, including Mira.
All three puppies were carried by different surrogate mothers — in this case "large yellow dogs" that Hawthorne said are indigenous to Korea, where the actual cloning took place.
To Clone or Not to Clone
While some may be thrilled at the idea of cloning their favorite four-legged friend, critics contend this process could make the jump to human cloning much easier to imagine because many see dogs as friends and even part of the family.
Also, Center for Genetics and Society ethicist Marcy Darnovsky is concerned about BioArts' work with disgraced Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-Suk, which she believes raises serious questions.
Woo-Suk, a South Korean scientist and professor, gained international attention in 2004 when he said his research team successfully cloned a human embryo and produced stem cells from it.
A year later, however, he resigned in disgrace when an investigation said he used unacceptable practices to acquire the eggs from human donors and then faked two landmark pieces of research in the matter.
Beyond the Woo-Suk connection, Darnovsky has another problem with the dog-cloning program.
"I think the key concern with the cloned dog is that we are not seeing all the puppies that didn't make it," she said.
Hawthorne said the puppies that don't make it never get beyond the very early stages. He added that all the dogs used to produce clones are cared for.
Even if dissent in the scientific community exists, for some owners, the idea of having a piece of their favorite furry pet is enough to make them want to participate.
When Los Angeles writer, director and musician Liam Lynch's cat Frankie Forcefield was run over by a car and killed, he put it in the refrigerator, called Hawthorne's company and had his cat cloned. Lynch said his new replica cat, Finnegan, helped him get over the grief of Frankie's death.
He said Finnegan is an exact copy. Not only does Finnegan look like Frankie, his mannerisms and quirks are exactly the same, Lynch said.
Lynch even made a podcast about his decision to have his cat cloned.
"Seeing those eyes again," said Lynch. "It was very strange and you have a lot of weird emotions that are you don't have names for the emotions. It's kind of like, 'I know we've just met but it's so great to see you again.'"