Spending "sky-high" to "resurrect" pets leads to controversy

When cloning pets became a business

【Produced by Deep Hitomi Studio】

Written by: He Xinghui, reporter of this newspaper

Trainee Fu Jing

Planner: Zhao Yingshu, Teng Jipu, Lin Lijun

Since the advent of cloning technology, controversy has continued to accompany it in the public opinion arena. Considerable commercial prospects and high scientific research value promote the rapid development of cloning technology. Every time a new research result is released, it will trigger a new round of attention and discussion.

Liu Xing's (pseudonym) "male cat" is on a ventilator and is dying. "Male cat" is a native cat adopted by Liu Xing, and when he took this name, he hoped that it would be "easy to feed". She tried to get as close as possible to the ears of the male cat, afraid that it would not hear. "If you can persevere, no matter what you become, I'll take you home." Liu Xing paused, seemed to have made up a lot of determination, and continued to say softly, "If you can't hold on and are willing to return to me, I've already contacted the pet cloning company..."

Liu Xing is a designer, and her voice is still a little shaky when she recalls the scene.

Some companionship is not destined to last. The average lifespan of ordinary cats and dogs is between 10-15 years old, that is, they can only accompany their owners for a short period of time.

In the face of the departure of the pet, some people choose to spend money to clone and "resurrect" the pet.

"The woman spent 25,18 yuan to successfully clone the deceased pet dog" "Shanghai grandma spent 99,9 to clone the pet"... In recent years, similar news has been frequently searched, bringing the topic of "cloning pets" into the public eye. Some commercial organizations claim: "Cloned animals are guaranteed to have more than <>.<>% of the same genes as the body, and are certified by a third-party authority." ”

A few days ago, the 2023th Chengdu Tianyi Pet Expo in <> made people feel the quiet rise of the cloned pet market. However, when cloning technology enters the commercial application, cloning pets bring people, in addition to the "sky-high" cost, there are many problems that cannot be ignored.

Renew the frontier with the lost pet

The final farewell was in a pet hospital in Tongzhou District, Beijing. That night, after three rescues, Liu Xing's 15-year-old "male cat" still left. Before and after, nearly <>,<> yuan of medical expenses were spent.

In Liu Xing's heart, after living together for 15 years, the "male cat" has long become a family. It was the "male cat" who accompanied Liu Xing from Shenzhen to Beijing and spent many unforgettable years. "The relationship between people and animals is wonderful, you like it, it will give back to you in its way, it's a two-way rush."

Even when he is most strapped for money, Liu Xing can give priority to ensuring that the "male cat" eats "Miao Xian Bao" twice a week, and watching it enjoy the food is a very happy thing for Liu Xing.

When it's cold, the "male cat" will hide in the bed and curl up on her. Liu Xing said that the warmth brought by that companionship, like the light in the night, gave her great comfort. And with the departure of the "male cat", Liu Xing's heart seemed to be hollowed out all of a sudden.

Fortunately, there is cloning technology.

Liu Xing contacted the pet cloning company in advance and asked the staff to rush to the pet hospital as soon as possible. From skin sampling to cell culture, step by step. Liu Xing was very nervous, because she knew that the failure of any link would lead to a loss of success.

The whole cloning process really responds to the saying: good things take time.

After successful cultivation, the cells are frozen, resuscitated, and finally enter the cloning process. Unfortunately, the first two rounds of cloning ended in the miscarriage of the surrogate female cat.

Although pet cloning companies have repeatedly shown that cloned animals with stripes, plaques and spots, even if more than 99.9% are genetically identical, there may still be some differences in appearance. However, when Liu Xing first saw the "resurrected" "male cat", he almost cried with joy. Figure-eight face, big ears, white spots, alive or the original "male cat".

"Like! So much like that! ”

At this time, it has been nearly a year since Liu Xing's "male cat" died.

"In the face of loss, what we are most afraid of is empty regret." Liu Xing said that cloning technology gave her and the "male cat" a chance to continue the frontier. "It's like a loved one has left and returned to you."

The Nobel Prize technology behind the "sky-high price"

For the "resurrection" of the "male cat", Liu Xing spent 13,8 yuan, which is still a preferential price given by the pet cloning company.

"Value! It's worth it! When repeatedly asked whether spending "sky-high" clones on "male cats" is worth it, Liu Xing always blurted out without the slightest hesitation.

In Liu Xing's view, his annual salary of hundreds of thousands of yuan can fully afford such expenses, and his family and friends around him are also very supportive.

"It's like you spend a lot of money on a bag or a car, isn't it because it brings you happiness?" Liu Xing said.

Liu Xing's attitude is quite a bit of "it is difficult to buy money and I am willing". "I don't think there's anything in the world to replace it, and I'm willing to pay anything if I can get it back to me."

In recent years, a phenomenon called "pet loss syndrome" has been paid attention to by the psychological community. It is said that once a pet dies, 60% of pet owners will enter a state of extreme sadness, and even lose the courage to live. Cloning pets can help them get out of their painful emotions.

Liu Xing represents a huge group of pets and consumer markets.

According to the "China Pet Health Consumption White Paper" jointly released by iResearch and JD Health Data Research Institute, the current scale of China's pet consumption market is growing rapidly, with a market size of about 2022.3117 billion yuan in 2023; It is expected that the market size will reach 3924.21 billion yuan in 30; Young people aged <>-<> in second-tier cities are the main force of healthy pet consumption. For most pet owners, pets are more like family, able to accompany themselves and add fun to life.

Pet cloning agencies claim that cloning pets is to "bring pets back" and "never say goodbye". On some e-commerce platforms, cloned pets with hundreds of thousands of yuan at every turn stir the sensitive nerves of the public and cast a veil of mystery over cloning technology.

"Today, cloning technology has gone through nearly a hundred years of development and has won the Nobel Prize twice, which is rare in the field of technology." Dr. Liu Hongbo, chief scientist of Henan Chuangyuan Biotechnology Co., Ltd., said that cloning is actually the abbreviation of "somatic cell cloning", also known as "somatic cell nuclear transfer", which is essentially a "replication" technology.

Liu Hongbo figuratively compared cloning technology to the "porter" of genetics. "Specifically, the nucleus of animal oocytes is replaced with the nucleus of somatic cells, and then implanted into the animal mother after forming an embryo. The oocytes and somatic cells used in this process are naturally occurring, but the nucleus moves. In essence, cloning is just an artificial combination of genetic material and does not create new genetic material. He said.

From the world's first nuclear transplant animal "salamander" to the world's first somatic nuclear transplant animal "Xenopus frog", cloning technology won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine twice in 1935 and 2012, which is a landmark and major advance in the history of human science. However, for quite some time, cloning seemed to have been "hidden in purdah".

It was not until 1996 that British scientists cloned the world's first somatic cell nuclear transplantation mammal, which is known as the cloned sheep "Dolly", that cloning technology was finally "known to the world". Since then, in the developed animal husbandry countries represented by the United States, cloning technology has taken the lead from the laboratory to the commercial application market.

Enter a new track of commercialization

In 2017, Chinese scientists used gene editing and cloning technology to successfully breed the first domestic cloned dog "Dragon Dragon". Two years later, China's first domestic cloned cat "Garlic" was born.

This brings good news to the vast number of pet lovers.

Previously, the core technology of cloned dogs and cloned cats has been in the hands of Korean and American scientists. The arrival of "Dragon Dragon" and "Garlic" has surfaced their owner, Beijing Sinovalley Biotechnology Co., Ltd., and also indirectly announced that China has broken through technical problems and entered the commercialization track of cloned pets.

According to the data, Beijing Sinovalley Biotechnology Co., Ltd. focuses on animal gene technology, is a commercial cloned pet enterprise with completely independent intellectual property rights, has the world's leading gene-edited dog technology, and has undergone four rounds of financing.

In fact, after "Dolly", cloned cattle, cloned pigs, cloned monkeys, etc. came out one after another, and cloning technology has developed rapidly at home and abroad. As for why the new track of cloned pets is locked alone, Mi Jidong, chairman of Beijing Sinovalley Biotechnology Co., Ltd., said frankly, "because of business opportunities."

In 2012, the pet craze rose, but orders for cloned pets continued to flow to South Korea, Europe and the United States. Subject to technical barriers, domestic enterprises can only "look at the ocean and sigh". Mi Jidong decisively jumped to start a business, and joined hands with top domestic scientists to begin to overcome technical problems.

"Cloning pets is not easy, whether it is somatic cell line establishment, mature oocyte acquisition, somatic cell nuclear transfer, embryo fusion activation and embryo transfer, it is a difficult and long process." Mi Jidong said that although the technical route of cloning different species has not changed much, the reproductive and physiological characteristics of each species are different, and different technical means are destined to be developed.

For example, Mi Jidong said that one of the main difficulties in cloning dogs is how to obtain mature oocytes. Cloned cats, when extracting somatic cells, have higher requirements for tissues, "it can be said that each cloned pet is a new scientific research topic."

In just a few years, Beijing Sinovalley Biotechnology Co., Ltd. has risen rapidly and become a leading enterprise in the domestic cloned pet industry.

Mi Jidong revealed that up to now, the company has delivered nearly 500 cloned pets, and after long-term follow-up, the growth and health of these cloned pets are very good.

In response to the price of cloned pets concerned by the outside world, Mi Jidong said that the price of cloned pets fully considers factors such as R&D and production costs, market conditions and other factors, in addition to the invisible technical threshold, cloned pets do require more resource support, including hard costs such as high-end instruments and technicians. "In fact, our price is already the lowest in the world, and it is expected to be further reduced in the future through technology optimization, efficiency improvement and cost control."

Nowadays, with the influx of other domestic enterprises, the new track of cloning pets is becoming more and more lively. It has been found that the price of cloned pets also seems to be moving in the direction of "close to the people". On the e-commerce platform, the lowest price of cloned cats has dropped from the highest peak of hundreds of thousands of yuan to about 10,<> yuan.

Regulatory gaps exacerbate public anxiety

Scientists developed cloning technology that makes people immortal, but unexpectedly, after the male protagonist was successfully cloned, the clone in turn impersonated his identity and hunted him down, and a fierce battle began... The plot of the science fiction movie "The Sixth Day" shows the challenge of cloning technology to traditional social order and ethics.

Since the advent of cloning technology, controversy has continued to accompany it in the public opinion arena. Considerable commercial prospects and high scientific research value promote the rapid development of cloning technology. Every time a new research result is released, it will trigger a new round of attention and discussion.

The most concerned thing from the outside world is that the current "Test Animal Use License" is the only basis for the supervision of the cloning pet industry in China, which covers animal welfare, ethical review, biosecurity and other aspects, but this license issued by the science and technology department actually only recognizes the qualifications of science and technology enterprises and scientific research units to carry out animal experiments, and does not limit the use of experiments.

That is, the peculiarities of cloned pets and the risks they may bring, have not received enough attention. At the same time, since cloned pets themselves are copied as a whole, theoretically speaking, there is no "new species" and harm, so there are no relevant laws and regulations at home and abroad to prohibit it.

The regulatory gap appears to be fueling public anxiety.

In recent years, as cloned pets have increasingly appeared in front of the public, the call for regulation in society has become more and more loud. How to establish a sound market access mechanism and include cloned pets in the whole process of supervision has become an unavoidable social proposition.

"In fact, it is to avoid cloning people in the name of cloning pets." Pan Helin, co-director and researcher of the Digital Economy and Financial Innovation Research Center of Zhejiang University's International Business School, suggested strengthening risk control through the "reporting system", otherwise, "the law can be done without prohibition".

"From a global perspective, human cloning is prohibited, which is also a high consensus of academia and industry, and it is an insurmountable red line." Mi Jidong said that pet cloning is an emerging field, and it is hoped that relevant norms can be introduced at the national level to ensure that the scientific and technological innovation of enterprises is always moving in the right direction. "We also hope to explore the way for the healthy development of the industry and contribute some experience from enterprises to the country's supervision."

Zhong Yougang, associate professor of the College of Veterinary Medicine of China Agricultural University, believes that the concerns of the outside world are understandable, and relevant institutions must strictly comply with relevant norms and regulations when carrying out pet cloning, but from the perspective of scientific and technological innovation, they should still have an encouraging and tolerant attitude towards cloned pets.

Of course, the focus of public controversy is not limited to the security boundary of cloning technology.

Abroad, protests are heard from time to time. Although animal welfare has greatly improved with the continuous maturity of cloning technology, some animal protection activists still resist pet cloning, believing that for every pet cloned, commercial organizations will sacrifice countless experimental animals, which is completely to satisfy personal selfish interests and mutilate countless animals, which is "cruel".

More skepticism focused on the value and significance of cloning pets. Opponents argue that cloning pets doesn't really bring a pet back from the dead, it's just an emotional placebo, and even suspects an IQ tax.

In this regard, Mi Jidong expressed understanding, because people look at problems from different angles and starting points, and it is normal for them to have disputes. "We will provide a choice for society from the perspective of science and humanistic care."

Technology opens up more possibilities

During this year's "May Day" holiday, Harbin Polar Park was full of tourists, and the world's first cloned Arctic wolf "Maya" attracted countless fans with its super popularity, which made people see the dawn of cloning technology in saving endangered species.

In 2006, the park introduced two wild Arctic wolves from Canada, and Maya was one of them. In 2020, after "Maya" entered old age, in order to "retain" old friends, the park joined hands with Beijing Sino Valley Biotechnology Co., Ltd. to start tackling a new worldwide topic - cloning arctic wolves. After more than two years of hard work, the world's first cloned Arctic wolf "Maya" was born and unveiled in the park.

As one of the world's most endangered animals, the Arctic wolf was included in the 2012 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The birth of "Maya" was regarded by foreign media as a "milestone" in the protection of endangered species in China.

Coincidentally. Previously, Liu Hongbo led the team to breed the first batch of cloned horses in China. Since then, after the United States and Argentina, our country has become the third country to master the technology of cloning horses.

This batch of cloned Mali has the legend in the minds of countless Chinese people - sweat and blood horse, a world-recognized excellent horse breed. Its total number in the world is more than 3000,<>, which is very rare.

At present, Liu Hongbo's team already has industrial-grade cloning capabilities for animals such as cattle, pigs, horses and cats.

In recent years, with the increasing global ecological crisis, biodiversity conservation is facing severe challenges. As of September 2021, IUCN updated the Red List of Threatened Species, with 9,138374 of the 38543 species it assesses threatened with extinction. Therefore, species resources are increasingly concerned by countries around the world.

He Zhenming, director of the Institute of Laboratory Animal Resources of the China Academy of Food and Drug Control and vice chairman of the National Laboratory Animal Expert Committee, publicly stated that cloning technology provides a good entry point for the protection of endangered wild animals, which makes great contributions to the conservation of biodiversity.

"The basic scientific issues of cloning technology, such as the safety of cloned animals and their offspring as food for humans, have been made very clear." Liu Hongbo said that cloning technology is the only technology that can transform a single somatic cell into a living individual or population, and has an irreplaceable role in the field of life sciences.

In foreign countries, cloning technology has long begun to be commercialized, providing good support for the development of animal husbandry, biomedicine and endangered animal protection and other related fields.

Liu Hongbo appealed: "We should fully respect the laws of science and industrial development, adhere to the 'science and technology for good' and formulate relevant policies, so that commercial cloning can develop in an orderly manner, and receive extensive support and help from all sectors of society." ”