GENET archive


4-Animals: Cloning's promise unfulfilled in farming

                                  PART I
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Cloning's promise unfulfilled in farming
SOURCE: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA, by Susanne Quick
        Knight Ridder Tribune Information Services, USA
DATE:   8 Apr 2005

------------------- archive: -------------------

Cloning's promise unfulfilled in farming

ROSLIN, Scotland - (KRT) - In the world of biotech and biomedicine, it's
usually the mouse or primate that takes center stage. But when the first
cloned animal from adult cells was announced, the spotlight fell on a
fleecy-white Scottish sheep named Dolly.

Dolly was chosen because of the potential she and other large farm
animals had for revolutionizing agriculture and medicine.

But nearly a decade after her birth - and 18 years since Neal First, a
retired University of Wisconsin-Madison researcher, first cloned calves
from embryonic cells - cloned animals have yet to make it to the shelf of
any American supermarket or pharmacy.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has asked livestock producers to
refrain from putting animal clones and their progeny into the food chain.
And the FDA is in discussions with other federal agencies about how best
to verify the safety of these products.

This has come as a disappointment for scientists and farmers who foresaw
herds of sheep fleeced in the finest of wools, dairy cows with the
ability to pump out tens of gallons of milk every day and giant porkers
belted with bellies of bacon.

While most researchers agree that the potential for medical advances
using cloned livestock remains, many have begun to question how cloning
could advance animal husbandry. The benefits, they say, are limited to
basic research, conservation of rare breeds, creation of only female
chickens to lay eggs and the possibility of disease resistance. Dreams of
superior flocks roaming the agricultural hinterlands are misguided and
farfetched, they say.

"We're just too good at it," said Bruce Whitelaw, a researcher at the
Roslin Institute in Scotland, referring to conventional farming. Cloning
and transgenics - adding or deleting genes in an animal - will add
little, if anything, to advances already made in livestock agriculture
since World War II, he said.

"I mean, food is cheap," he said. And these new technologies - as
unwieldy and expensive as they are - will only add cost.

That makes agricultural companies and government agencies reluctant to
funnel money into cloning. The lack of monetary support, say researchers,
has slowed the technology, making it more unlikely that it'll ever reach
the consumer's shelf.

First believes that if products from cloned animals were tastier and
cheaper than those from conventionally bred animals, a market would develop.

"We thought nobody would buy milk" from cows that had been given growth
hormones, he said. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture slapped
stickers on milk cartons to warn consumers, and few balked.

John Woolliams, a geneticist at the Roslin Institute, said more
fundamental concerns about large-scale livestock cloning must be
considered. He believes that entire herds composed of the same superior
cow just don't make sense.

First of all, he said, the idea that "somehow the perfect cow exists" is
nonsense. Even if it did, he said, a herd made up of genetically
identical animals would increase the likelihood of inbreeding, as well as
make the animals more vulnerable to disease.

But that's not all. A common misconception exists that if farmers could
clone their best animals, they would somehow reach the apex of livestock
production, he said. ABS Global of DeForest, Wis., was a leader in the
late 1990s in trying to create ways of mass producing clones.

Unfortunately, said Woolliams, that's not the way it works.

Current breeding schemes, which include conventionally bred animals, try
to increase production by 1 percent to 5 percent. Meaning, a dairy farmer
expects his cows to produce slightly more milk with each new generation.

With a clone, that improvement would cease.

"Cloning is a brick wall for progress," Woolliams said.

Added to that, say others, is the uncertainty about what role genes and
the environment play on an animal's productivity.

"Let's say you clone an animal that has incredible success at
reproducing," said Robert Collier, a professor of animal studies at the
University of Arizona in Tucson. "Maybe it produced 70,000 offspring in
its lifetime, and you want to preserve that success by cloning it. OK.
You clone it. Now you send 1,000 of its clones to 1,000 different farms
around the United States. Most of those clones are not going to have the
same reproductive success."

That's because "each farm will have a different set of environmental
factors. And the environment is going to affect a cow's ability to
reproduce," he said.

But here is where cloning may prove to be a scientific boon. Researchers
and farmers could learn from clones how an animal's environment and genes
affect its productivity, temperament and health.

We have "very little understanding about genetic diversity and the way it
buffers disease," Woolliams said. Cloning would allow researchers to
learn more about this area of livestock management and possibly enable
them to make animals more resistant to disease.

Lou Hawthorne, CEO for Genetics Savings & Clone Inc., a pet-cloning
outfit to open in April in Madison, Wis., said cloning will provide
scientists with "the grand experiment of nature versus nurture."

Woolliams and others believe cloning may have other modest impacts.

"I don't think many people realize it," but 50 percent of all baby
chickens are killed every year, said Jim McWhir, a geneticist and
developmental biologist at the Roslin Institute.

The female is desired in egg-laying breeds; the male is desired in meat
breeds. The gender not wanted at a specific farm is killed.

If farmers could be assured that all chicks born on their farms were the
same sex, which they could by cloning them, it would save money, chicken
lives and the time it takes to handle each chick to determine its sex,
said Ron Kean, a UW Extension poultry specialist. Although, he added, no
bird species have been cloned yet.

In other animals in which cloning has been successful, the promise of
creating herds of disease-resistant animals is appealing.

Creating such herds is a little more complicated than basic cloning - DNA
first would need to be tinkered with to add immunity or delete
susceptibility. But doing that successfully with an entire herd would be
difficult, and transferring it to the next generation essentially is
impossible because when clones - like other animals - breed, the genes
they pass on combine in new and unexpected ways.

The possibility that a farmer could make his herd immune to bovine
spongiform encephalitis - or mad cow disease - might be a potential lure
to the consumer market. But Whitelaw, one of the Roslin researchers, is
skeptical about this, too.

Current practices of disease management, such as bringing only young cows
to slaughter, greatly reduce the likelihood of mad cow disease. And this
method is much cheaper than tinkering with an animal's genome in the

First, the retired UW researcher, also pointed out that even if you could
create herds resistant to all common ailments that afflict a particular
breed, there's no way to keep them immune to everything.

If a new or rare disease were to strike a cloned herd, it could wipe it out.

Woolliams, the Roslin geneticist, is betting that cloning will have its
biggest impact as a means of preservation.

If the technology could be developed more cheaply and efficiently -
current cloning procedures are wildly inefficient with hundreds of
attempts made for every one successful clone - he believes it could
enable farmers in developing nations to conserve breeds facing extinction.

Dotted around the world, small populations of rare breeds - such as the
New Zealand Hokonui sheep or the British Red Poll cow - may harbor
important genes for disease resistance or retain desirable
characteristics that could be incorporated into improved breeds of livestock.

Woolliams said it's vital these breeds are preserved so there remains a
genetic reservoir in which to tap.

If that's to happen, help likely will have to come from governments,
conservation groups or other concerned organizations, because there
probably isn't money to be made.

In the end, the researchers agree that cloning's use will be applicable
only for special animals: pets, endangered species and a few, truly
spectacular farm animal.

                                  PART II
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Cloning pets brings ethical, cost questions into play
SOURCE: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA, by Susanne Quick
        Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services, USA
DATE:   8 Apr 2005

------------------- archive: -------------------

Cloning pets brings ethical, cost questions into play

WAUNAKEE, Wis. - (KRT) - It's just another brown brick building in a
suburban business park.

But Suite J at the Waunakee Business Center is about to turn into the
animal cloning debate's ground zero. Genetic Savings & Clone Inc. - the
entrepreneurial outfit that introduced the first cloned pet cat to the
world in December - is opening its doors in this small Madison, Wis.,
suburb this month. The company's CEO, Lou Hawthorne, has promised that by
year's end, a dog will be born here.

In the eight years since Dolly the sheep's birth was announced to the
world, research into animal cloning has progressed in ways few dreamed
possible a decade ago.

Scientists have now cloned barnyard animals and endangered species.
They've created cloned cows from frozen steaks and cloned mice from
cancer cells. They've talked about resurrecting extinct creatures - such
as woolly mammoths and Tasmanian tigers. And with the news on Thursday
that soft tissue from dinosaurs had been discovered, re-creating these
giant lizards does not seem so farfetched. Despite the scientific
excitement, creativity and ingenuity that have inspired and driven this
research, cloning remains uncomfortable - even freakish - for many people.

Who and what are the clones? Are they healthy animals or deformed
monsters? How many animals are sacrificed in the pursuit of one healthy
clone? And, in the end, what will it lead to?

As ethicists and scientists weigh the motivations for animal cloning -
improving the food supply, fighting disease, saving endangered animals -
the arguments for and against cloning mutate and evolve along with the
research advances.

That debate is now moving to our backyard.

In December, Genetic Savings & Clone announced the birth of Little Nicky,
the first cloned cat to be sold as a pet. The recipient, a Texas woman
known only as Julie, paid $50,000 to have her beloved - but dead - kitty
cloned. While some say she was swindled, Hawthorne believes she was given
an incredible, if expensive, gift.

"Our product is based on love," Hawthorne said.

David Magnus, director of Stanford University's Center for Biomedical
Ethics, scoffed at this claim. He said the high death rates and possible
cruelty that go into cloning make Genetic Savings & Clone's product
anything but "loving."

Also, he and other critics said consumers are being duped: The animals
they think they are getting - their original pets - cannot be reproduced.

And finally, they think Genetic Savings & Clone's product is grossly
frivolous in light of the number of animals in shelters who need homes.

"Everything about this is objectionable," Magnus said.

But Autumn Fiester, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, said
there isn't evidence to show that animals are suffering - at least any
more than commercially bred dogs or cats.

She added that the claim that pet owners are being duped is
condescending. As for the frivolous argument, she says, "Then you're
arguing against buying any luxury good."

Among those involved in cloning, she is in the minority.

Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at
Advanced Cell Technology - a Worcester, Mass., company at the forefront
of cloning technology - called it "troubling."

Rudolf Jaenisch, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology and a researcher at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical
Research, called pet cloning "ridiculous" and "preposterous."

Somatic cell nuclear transfer - the shop name for cloning - is
conceptually a pretty easy process.

A cell - such as a skin cell - is taken from an adult animal. The
nucleus, and the DNA it houses, is sucked out and placed next to an empty
egg cell - one that's had its nucleus removed. The new egg-nucleus combo
is then jolted with electricity or bathed in a chemical cocktail.

"What you want to do is basically trick the egg into thinking it's been
fertilized by a sperm," said Neal First, a retired professor of animal
sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the first researcher
to clone cattle.

If all goes well, the duped egg starts to divide, eventually creating an
incipient embryo, which researchers implant into a surrogate animal.

While this may sound pretty straightforward, it's actually a messy, hit-
or-miss process that yields few successful clones.

Depending on whom you talk to, the number of successful clones - which
survive beyond birth - can run as low as one-in-1,000 to as many as 15

Researchers believe this is the result of a host of molecular issues -
some they can pinpoint, others they can't.

The mystery is in the egg. "There are molecules in the egg that allow the
DNA to reprogram" and start anew - so that it's read as the blueprint for
an embryo, not an old skin cell, Lanza said.

But what those molecules are and how they work remains elusive.

There is also an issue of extra DNA in the egg. Even though the egg's
nuclear DNA is removed, other genetic material remains floating around
the egg cell - in a form known as mitochondrial DNA.

No one knows for sure what effects this might have on a developing clone
embryo - but it does mean that the clone, despite its name, is not an
exact genetic duplicate of the donor. It has some other DNA that may or
may not affect its development.

Then there's the issue of imprinting. Mammals carry two copies of each
gene: one set from their mother, the other from their father. But only
one of these copies is active at any one time.

In a clone, "the normal battle between mom and dad" is not taking place,
Lanza said. The end result: critical messages from the genes are being
lost during an embryo's development, potentially leading to cardiac
problems, respiratory ailments and "a messed up placenta."

The hurdles don't end here.

When DNA is in a quiescent state, it looks like spaghetti noodles with
proteins attached to it. This means that when the skin cell DNA is sucked
out, it's carrying a lot of protein baggage. It is possible these
proteins may get in the way of the egg-skin cell DNA fusion.

Researchers at Genetic Savings & Clone say they have solved this problem
by using a new technique called chromatin transfer that cleans the DNA.
The result, according to Hawthorne, is higher efficiency.

"Our losses are well under 50 percent," he said, adding that such losses
are typical in commercial breeding.

Magnus and others question these claims - scientists at Genetic Savings &
Clone have not published their results. But Jim Robl, president of a
South Dakota biotech company called Hematech and one of the developers of
chromatin transfer, said he, too, had gotten good results using this
method to clone cows.

Hawthorne said that when the process doesn't work it's generally because
of an early stage mishap - something that happens before the embryos
really develop into animals. As he sees it, "a one- to eight-cell embryo
is not a sentient being."

"It doesn't matter if we put 100,000 of these embryos down the sink," he said.

Yet, the battle over pet clones only partially hinges on technical and
molecular hurdles.

These animals are behaviorally complex. They are not just products of a
strict genetic blueprint - but of the multicolored and textured tapestry
of their environment and experiences.

This means that a consumer - who's paying thousands of dollars in hopes
of getting the same dog or cat - will be getting an animal that behaves
differently than the original.

That, said Magnus, is "a rip-off."

Hawthorne said anyone who thinks a pet is going to be reincarnated is
"seriously deluded." But he does believe the cloned animals will tend to
behave similarly, akin to a twin.

Karen London, a certified animal behaviorist based in New Hampshire, said
the environment plays a bigger role than Hawthorne suggests. She said
three things go into shaping an individual's behavior: genetics, the
environment and the interaction between genetics and environment.

"Nobody knows how much behavior is influenced by the environment," she
said, but "early experiences could extend" into the animal's personality.

For instance, "it's those moments when you comfort your dog at just that
critical moment" that help shape that dog's behavior and relationship
with you. Events such as these can't be passed on to a clone, she said.

Hawthorne counters by saying "every animal is going to have its first
exposure to aggression" and comfort. It's not so much the manner of the
moment as the fact that it happened.

Everybody - including London and Magnus - agrees that some behavior is
genetically determined. For instance, different breeds have unique
behavioral traits - such as herding in collies and retrieving in Labradors.

It's exactly this kind of reproducible behavior Hawthorne promises to
deliver his clients.

He points out that the majority of requests he's received are from people
who own mutts - a combination of genes that could not be replicated
through conventional breeding.

"Millions of people believe their pets are one in a million," he said.
And that's the paradox of the business: Taking that one in a million and
trying to make two.

But London warned that Hawthorne and his researchers should pay close
mind to the animals they are raising - particularly in the first few
weeks of the clones' lives. If there's anything her experience has taught
her, she said, it's that dogs raised without litter mates are trouble.

Current technology has clones being born solo.

"I'm not so sure about cats," she said. But when it comes to dogs, they
have to have litter exposure to grow up normally.

Fiester, the Pennsylvania bioethicist, shrugs this argument off.

If the clones turn out to be "animal monstrosities," she said, "that'll
be the end of the pet cloning business."

For pet-cloning critics, including Crystal Miller-Spiegel, a spokeswoman
for the American Anti-Vivisection Society, there's the issue of the
welfare of animals who are donating cells and carrying clones. Last
month, the society petitioned the U.S. Agriculture Department to regulate
pet-cloning companies as it does other animal research labs. She said
there's no accountability; and no public record of the animals created,
destroyed or used by the company.

According to Miller-Spiegel, 245 dogs and cats were released for adoption
as a result of a failed dog-cloning project at Texas A&M University.
"That's a lot of animals," she said. "How many do you think they have
right now?"

Both Hawthorne and the company's vice president of communications, Ben
Carlson, declined to comment any further than Hawthorne saying animal
welfare is a priority.

The number of animals kept on-site becomes an issue because of the
reproductive anomalies of dogs.

Unlike most other mammals, dogs come into heat - or estrous -
infrequently; maybe one or two times a year. They also have a unique
reproductive system that is difficult to manipulate in a laboratory
setting. That makes it difficult to conduct cloning trials without using
a lot of animals.

Despite these hurdles, Hawthorne is confident that his company will
produce a dog clone by the end of the year.

Finally, critics of pet cloning said there's the issue of the millions of
animals who don't have homes that are living on the streets or housed in

Magnus and Spiegel-Miller believe Hawthorne's business is minimizing the
plight of these animals.

They charge that the money Hawthorne's clients are willing to spend on a
clone would be better used on these other animals, that Genetic Savings &
Clone clients should head to a local shelter, pay $50 for a cat or dog
that needs a home and donate the rest to the shelter.

That would be a more ethical way to spend their money, they say.

Fiester and Hawthorne dismiss the criticism as baseless.

"Why should someone who loves their cat be more obligated to donate money
or help shelter animals than someone else?" Fiester said.

He also threw back the notion that cloning for agricultural or medical
purposes is somehow more ethical.

In the end, he said, the future of the pet cloning business will depend
upon the quality of the product.

If Genetic Savings & Clone can create animals that pet owners are happy
with - animals that aren't sick or compromised and behave in ways similar
to the original - the business will succeed, Hawthorne said.

His scientists also are looking into how to enhance pets - how to make
them live longer and healthier.

"Our clones will be better than normal," he said. "Clones are going to
become the preferred pets."

                                  PART III
-------------------------------- GENET-news -------------------------------

TITLE:  Mixing species may be only way to save world's rarest
SOURCE: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, USA, by Susanne Quick
        Knight Rider Tribune Information Services, USA
DATE:   8 Apr 2005

------------------- archive: -------------------

Mixing species may be only way to save world's rarest

MILWAUKEE - (KRT) - It sounds like the plot of a cheesy sci-fi film: A
futuristic army of clones saves the giant panda from extinction.

But it isn't.

Researchers from San Diego to New Orleans are examining and testing the
powers of cloning technology. They are hoping that if all else fails,
genetic duplicates can save animals such as the Sumatran rhino and
Siberian tiger from extinction.

Already scientists have cloned the African wildcat, Asian banteng and a
rare cow-like species called a gaur.

The clone of the latter species didn't last long - just a few hours - but
cloning conservationists say they are making significant strides, despite
charges that they are wasting their time, misusing otherwise needed
conservation funds and creating creatures that not only don't belong on
the planet but actually may be too unique to "re-create."

Notwithstanding these concerns, zookeepers and researchers across the
country literally are banking - in "frozen zoos" - as much animal tissue
as they can.

The hope is that someday, if a species disappears, zoos will have the
material to resurrect it, said Bruce Beehler, deputy director of the
Milwaukee County Zoo. Although he has yet to bank any animal tissue, he
believes the technology holds promise - as do other reproductive
assistance techniques for endangered animals, such as in vitro
fertilization and artificial insemination.

"Cloning is just one tool," said Betsy Dresser, a senior vice president
of the Audubon Nature Center in New Orleans and director of the Audubon
Center for Research of Endangered Species. And so far, that tool has been
used successfully by her team to create African wildcats and an antelope-
like creature called a bongo.

Dresser, who has been active in conservation for 27 years, said she's a
"strong believer there's not just one answer" to the question of how to
rescue animals from extinction.

But critics such as Bruce Whitelaw, a researcher at the world-renowned
Roslin Institute in Scotland, said cloning for conservation is
ridiculous. He believes conservationists should be addressing issues such
as human overpopulation, habitat depletion and poaching. If these aren't
addressed, there will be no place for these animals in the future _- even
if their DNA has been stored.

Dresser remains adamant in the face of such criticism.

"Wouldn't it be awful if we saved land for these animals, but, oops, we
discover we have no animals," to repopulate it, she asked.

She said a lot of the criticism she hears stems from concerns about money
- that she's diverting money from other conservation projects. But the
money she receives, she said, is from people who want to fund this
particular technology - not other efforts.

Others say such arguments miss the point that money and various scenarios
of the future are the least of the concerns. More important is that the
basic technology that allows for cloning actually could undermine the
conservation effort.

First, a clone is a genetic duplicate of another animal. If you're in the
business of trying to bolster the genetic legacy of a dwindling species,
throwing in a bunch of genetic copies is not going to help. What you're
essentially doing then is "narrowing the genetic variations," within an
already genetically depleted or inbred population, said Arthur Caplan, a
bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dresser deflects that criticism by pointing out that if zoos start saving
DNA now, they'll have a number of animals to clone from in the future.
And with a careful breeding program, severe inbreeding could be avoided.

Then there's the issue that despite the fact these animals are called
"clones," their genetic make up is a bit muddier than the name implies.

The wildcats, bongos, bantengs and gaurs that have been cloned are what
scientists refer to as "chimeras" - creatures whose DNA is a genetic
blend of different species.

To clone an animal, scientists start with an adult cell, such as a skin
cell, and extract its nuclear DNA. Meanwhile, they extract the nucleus
from a donor egg - generally from the same species - and place the egg
next to the skin DNA. They zap the two, or dose them with a chemical, and
if everything goes well, the egg grows into a genetic copy of the
original animal.

But cloning is an inefficient process. It requires a large number of
eggs, as well as live animals to carry the clones. And endangered
species, by definition, are few in number. So researchers have to look to
other species for these raw materials.

Take the example of the African wildcat. Dresser and her colleagues used
domestic cats to supply eggs and wombs. The experiment seemed to work -
healthy animals were produced. But are they wildcats? Certainly, the
majority of DNA in their cells are from their wildcat donor. But there is
also a little input from the goo inside the domestic cat egg in the form
of mitochondrial DNA.

The final product, then, is an African wildcat with a whiff of domesticity.

Dresser doesn't think the extra DNA has much impact. She said the animals
look and behave like wildcats, not domestic cats.

But it's hard to say for sure - especially when the wildcats' behavior is
evaluated in a captive environment.

There's also the issue of the in utero experience: What influence do the
chemicals and hormones that float around the mother's body have on the
developing embryo - particularly if the mother is of a different species?

Nobody knows.

And the situation gets even trickier when researchers contemplate cloning
animals that have no close living relatives, said Oliver Ryder, a
researcher at the San Diego Zoo who was involved in cloning two
endangered bantengs.

Take, for instance, the giant panda. Chinese scientists have made little
headway in their attempts to clone this endangered species because even
though adult pandas are about the same size as a well-fed Eastern black
bear, their cubs are radically different.

The panda gives birth to a cub about the size of a stick of a butter - a
baby closer to the size of a rabbit kit than a black bear cub.

Researchers first tried to clone pandas by using rabbit eggs and wombs.
After several unsuccessful attempts, they tried using the domestic cat as
a surrogate. That didn't work either.

The Chinese have halted the project, but their difficulties have not been
lost on others.

George Amato, director of the Science Resource C enter at the Wildlife
Conservation Society in New York, isn't sure what the future holds for
cloning in conservation.

"When you consider the Sumatran rhino, of which there are only 15
breeding pairs in captivity and maybe a few hundred in the wild," you
have to be open to these emerging technologies, he said.

The challenge, he said, is not for conservationists to gripe about the
best way to save these animals, but to get the public to care about
endangered species as much as they do the latest "celebrity criminal
trial," he said.

Because until they get the public involved, nothing is going to save
these creatures.


European NGO Network on Genetic Engineering

Hartmut MEYER (Mr)
In den Steinäckern 13
D - 38116 Braunschweig

P: +49-531-5168746
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