The Missyplicity Project is alive and well, even though Missy herself passed away in July, and funding for the effort to clone her has moved to the Sausilito, California-based company Genetic Savings & Clone (GSC). The millionaire founder of the University of Phoenix, John Sperling, announced earlier this month that he was terminating a $3.7 million partnership with Texas A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine, aimed at cloning Sperling's beloved Siberian husky mix, Missy.
Though the Texas A&M team produced the world's first cloned cat last year, and had achieved two dog pregnancies in the five years since the Missyplicity Project was announced, they had been unable to bring a dog clone to term.
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"They helped us to understand why the dog is the hardest of all mammals to clone, but that is very different than actually cloning the hardest of all mammals to clone," said Genetic Savings & Clone CEO Lou Hawthorne.
Unlike any other mammal, dogs ovulate immature ova which can't be used for cloning, Hawthorne explained. Canine ova complete their maturation in the oviduct. "So we have to construct artificial oviducts and are using advanced technology that is just not available at Texas A&M," Hawthorne said.
"We would like to have the commercial process in the works when we announce to the world the first dog clone," said Hawthorne. And to do that, The Missyplicity Project requires the kind of high-throughput technology that only industrial partnerships can offer. If GSC had continued funding the Texas A & M team, the scientists there would have cloned a single dog, Hawthorne said, but that kind of hand-built feat "doesn't get you anywhere in terms of a commercial process."
Sperling, who founded GSC, is investing $9 million dollars in the company's cloning effort, which is expected to lead to a commercial pet-cloning service. For an initial fee of about $1000, plus a $100 annual maintenance fee, customers can now have their cat or dog's DNA stored in the company's gene bank in anticipation of the day they can bring home a pet clone.
Hawthorne predicts a 50–50 probability that GSC scientists will produce the world's first dog clone within the next nine months. Their target price tag for the pet-cloning service is $20,000. According to Hawthorne, hundreds of customers have already placed deposits in the gene bank and, based on e-mails the company has received, tens of thousands more are waiting for the cloning technology to become available.