When Lou Hawthorne met Mira, the clone of his dog Missy, he couldn't have been happier. The puppy was just like Missy--and in some ways better because she mirrored Missy in her younger, more playful days.
So BioArts International, Hawthorne's biotech start-up that focuses on animal and human genomics, decided to spread the love.
Starting July 5, the highest bidders in five separate online auctions will win the opportunity to clone their own dogs.
Hawthorne, the company's CEO, said the event is the first step in making his Mill Valley, Calif.-based company's technology available to consumers.
That is, if buyers can afford the hefty price.
Each auction will run for 12 hours a day, starting at 11 a.m. PDT. The auctions will last through July 9 on live bidding Web site ProxiBid.com. The first auction has a starting bid of $100,000, and that bid will increase by $20,000 each day. Although the prices are high, Hawthorne said they would have to be considerably higher for the company to break even. Despite that fact, the company will also offer one lucky pet owner a free dog cloning.
The winners will submit DNA samples, and the company says it can guarantee a healthy cloned puppy within 3 to 12 months.
Animal cloning has come under fire since its inception. Whether based on ethical concerns or a fear of consuming products from cloned farm animals, some people adamantly oppose the practice of genetically altering animals.
But Hawthorne brushes off the naysayers, saying he's never seen a person get upset when they learned his puppies were clones. Responding to the argument that cloning pets is frivolous because so many animals wait to be adopted, he said five cloned dogs won't take a home away from the thousands upon thousdands of dogs in shelters.
"If anything this is the celebration of the mutt," he said. "This is a way to get the same mix you have in your spayed or neutered pet that you got at a shelter."
For Hawthorne, cloning Missy cost about $20 million and took 10 years of hard work. Missy died at age 15, while the cloning process was still under way.
His quest to clone his beloved family pet ended in 2007, when Hawthorne met Dr. Woo Suk Hwang.
Two years earlier, Hwang and his team of research scientists at Seoul National University claimed they had succeeded in cloning a dog. There were doubts about the authenticity, after it was reported that Hwang fabricated information in a report on stem cells.
However, it was later confirmed that "Snuppy" was a bona fide clone. Hawthorne asked if the team could help him clone Missy, who died in 2002, several years after he set out to clone her. Now, Hawthorne has three mini Missys running around: Mira, the oldest, and the younger pups, Chingu and Sarang.
That successful cloning has resulted in the partnering of BioArts and the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation outside of Seoul, South Korea, to start the "Best Friends Again" project.
Hawthorne said that the company holds the only license in the world that allows it to clone dogs and have access to the "Dolly patents." Dolly the sheep was the first mammal cloned from an adult and the Sooam facility uses that cloning process, with specific tweaks, for the canine species.
"We are the only company that can do this legally," Hawthorne said. "Once we successfully cloned Missy, we realized with our partners at the lab we had a...safe project. We have finite capacity and potentially unlimited demand."