Missy may have a dog's life, but researchers at Texas A&M University are hoping to re-create that life several times over after receiving a $2.3 million donation from her unidentified owners to clone the pet.
"Is this a joke?" is one of the first points addressed on the the Missyplicity Project's Web site, (www.missyplicity.com), which provides information on the cloning effort, coordinated by the Bio Arts and Research Corp. of San Francisco."The answer," the Web site says, "is that we are quite serious and fully intend to see the project through completion. Cloning a dog is largely a matter of the right talent - which we've assembled - com-bined with sufficient time and money - both of which we have."
Dr. Mark Westhusin, an associate professor of veterinary physiology and pharmacology at Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine in College Station, Texas, heads the project. Westhusin said the owners were sincere in wanting a copy of their pet, and realized that the project might not work. But he said his team was in a "no-fail" situation because of what will be learned about reproduction in dogs, a little-studied subject.
The information could be used in developing animals for use as rescue dogs or as guide dogs for the blind, and providing data for new methods of contraception and sterilization.
"It would be nice if we had really good birth-control methods for dogs," said Westhusin, who will lead about 10 researchers.
The project involves removing genetic material from Missy, which has already been done, and inserting it into an egg from a donor dog. The egg is then implanted into a surrogate mother for gestation.
Missy, a 12-year-old border collie and husky mix, rescued by the couple from an animal shelter when she was 4 months old, has been returned home, her work done. But researchers estimate it could be at least two years before they will see results.
As word of the project got out, the Scottish scientists who last year cloned Dolly, the sheep, dismissed the idea, saying that "it perpetuates the myth that you can re-create an individual through cloning."
Bioethicists also questioned whether a pet, loved for its personality, could be cloned with the same success as sheep, which all seem the same.
"Genes are not the whole story when it comes to behavior," said Dr. Arthur Caplan, who heads the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. "They shape it, but they don't determine it."