It is not for love, but for money. The new whim of celebrities and influencers with their pets
Many believe that their pet is irreplaceable. But certain Instagram and Tik Tok influencers don’t think so and have replaced the original animal -greatly responsible for that account having millions of followers and being profitable- for one genetically the same. A clone, which looks exactly like the previous one. But obviously it is not.
When pets began to be cloned, more than 15 years ago, the motivation was undoubtedly in the sentimental factor. The loss of that life partner was difficult for many owners to face, and they looked to the cloning technique for a palliative to their pain. Criticizable or not, there was an emotional cause behind it. But today everything changed. The motivation, in most cases, is economic. With no pet, there is nothing to show and no income to pocket. For influencers the only solution is cloning.
Many even anticipate the death of their pet and extract a genetic sample for when the end comes. Tinkerbell, a canine celebrity with more than half a million followers, already has a pool of DNA extracted by ViaGen, the company responsible for cloning most celebrity pets. Given the number of followers they have, this company has begun to collaborate with different influencers for the promotion of its services. The reaction of the followers is usually to press the unfollow button to show their disagreement.
Although without any commercial purpose, motivated by the sadness of having lost her partner, the American actress and singer Barbra Streisand surprised everyone when she announced in an article published in The New York Times that she had cloned her dog Samantha, a coton tulear, who died in 2017. In the note Why did I clone my dog? The star said that she paid about $50,000 for the procedure and that four puppies genetically identical to her dog had been born. One of them died, another gave it away and kept two: Violet and Scarlet.
In Argentina, the company Biocan (which represented a Korean laboratory in the country) tried to enter the business of cloning pets. It was the year 2016 and the company was the one that acted as an intermediary between the owner of Anthony, the first cloned dog in the country, and Daniel Salamone, a veterinarian specialized in genetics and assisted reproduction techniques and director of the Department of Animal Production of the Faculty of Agronomy of the UBA. At that time he had been the first to successfully clone a cow and a horse in the country. And I was making some attempts on cats, but had not achieved good results.
“One day someone calls me and tells me that he wanted to clone his dog that he was very fond of and was willing to pay a large sum of money. I didn’t give him a lot of ball. But he sent an intermediary to talk to me and in the middle the animal, which was of an undefined breed, dies. So I told him to bring it urgently to the laboratory to extract and preserve the cells, which is the first step in cloning -he says-. It seemed to me that it was a good idea to finance programs for endangered species such as cheetahs and jaguars that we were working on,” says Salamone.
The final process -implantation and gestation- was done in Korea because at that time not all the conditions were in place to do everything here in Argentina: “The reason why we didn’t do it is because a certain part of the technology that in other spaces works easily. You need to have kennels and a large number of animals to carry out the process. We said ‘let’s accompany’, and we sent the cells to Korea and the animal was born there”. When the news came out in the media, Salamone was the target of several attacks: “It was the only time I was wrong. I remember that I received very negative reactions because there is a sector of the population that thinks that it is wrong. But we used the money to finance the endangered species, “explains the renowned veterinarian.
But is it morally valid to clone a pet or is it just an eccentric whim of the rich and famous? Salamone chooses to highlight the positive aspects of cloning: “Everyone who has a pet knows that they live much shorter than us and who doesn’t want to have that animal forever? It is very common to find people who once their dog or cat is dead, no matter how much one warns them that it is a twin deferred in time, that is to say that it is not the same animal that they lost, they want to do it. Also, if we can spawn an animal we can spawn any tissue to heal it. It seems fine to me as long as there is no animal suffering”, maintains who has received several Pérez Companc awards and several Konex awards.
Salamone assures that cloned dogs do not usually have the problems that other species develop where mortality is high. “Less than a year ago I interviewed a person with whom I did a second canine cloning exercise that continued in the United States and he told me that 4 puppies were born, that one died and that of the 3 that remained there was one that looked more like to the initial -account-. I happened to read a large number of papers on dogs trained to sniff out drugs. The scientific literature holds that if one of these dogs has a child, there is little chance that it will be as good as the father. On the other hand, if it is a clone, the possibilities are greater.”
To show that the cloning of animals is more common than is thought, Salamone points out that the Argentine Polo Open is played with clones. “Not only are they healthy but they are of excellence to compete. If the one that gave rise to the line was a champion, there is a high probability that the clones will be”, maintains someone who has tried to clone other species such as pigs, yaks and zebras: “We produced pregnancies but they were not born. In cloning and assisted reproduction, a large number of attempts must be made because there is a fundamental part that is the gynecology of the animal and if there are no good professionals in that area, it becomes complicated. Dolly was the product of many attempts”, says the specialist.
Undoubtedly Salamone is a disruptive character within a fairly conservative environment (he defines it as ‘professionalist’) such as the Veterinary Faculty of the UBA. That explains, in part, the reason why his laboratory is in the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences. “I participated in several competitions to teach at the Veterinary Faculty and they did not come out. On the other hand, in Agronomy they opened the doors to me right away -he says-. What I didn’t like at first ended up being something very good. Here I have biologists, agronomists, geneticists who gave me a lot of wealth in my research. We have a very nice laboratory, which is self-financing with services such as cell storage, horse cloning, courses. Between 10 and 17 people work depending on the season. Lately we have a hard time retaining professionals: one is in Stanford, another has a horse cloning company. It becomes difficult to maintain the team”, he laments.
As a color fact, the researcher says that he was a classmate of Gustavo Cerati at the San Roque Institute, when they were both high school students. “I can say that I had the privilege of playing with him in some school act”, he says and remembers him affectionately: “We had him as a kind of guru. He was beyond in many things. But he was a normal guy, interesting and funny. He made fun of the psychology teacher who was a complicated guy”, he remembers and says that he never lost the tradition of getting together with his schoolmates even though he was the star he was. However, the last meetings Salamone missed the appointment: he was studying abroad, or he was going to and from congresses, and in recent years he could not meet his famous high school classmate. Somehow he was a star too. But from science.