Dreaming of bringing your favourite pet back to life? Soon it could be reality

Prized polo ponies are already being reborn. It won’t be long before this is mass-market technology

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

14 November 2015

9:00 AM

How much do you love your dog? Do you secretly wish, as he or she grows older, that you could have another just the same? I’ll bet that tens of thousands of Brits feel this way — and soon their dreams could come true.

When most of us last thought about it, cloning was an off-putting and futuristic prospect. Dolly the sheep was the poster girl, and things didn’t turn out too well for her.

But times change, science creeps on, and last year a Brit called Rebecca Smith had her beloved dachshund, Winnie, cloned in South Korea. The going rate for Mini-Winnie would have been £60,000, but Rebecca won a competition and so — except for the obligation to appear in a TV documentary about the process — Mini came for free.

£60,000 sounds steep, but costs will almost certainly plummet, as they do with any new technology. And one reason we can be sure that cloning is the future is that it’s already very much in the present.

Cloning is banned in the racing world — there’s too much cash at stake, and too many opportunities for scams. But in polo, cloning a prized pony is becoming increasingly popular. One of the world’s top players, Adolfo Cambiaso, has cloned dozens of his favourite horses with great success. Cambiaso is so keen that he has become a partner in a cloning company, Crestview, which has its own laboratory near Buenos Aires. One day, he’s said, he’d like to play in an entire match that involves only cloned horses. They are turning out to be in hot demand. In 2010, a clone of one of Cambiaso’s best horses, Cuartetera, sold for $800,000.

Polo has set a precedent — and naturally other equestrian sports are clamouring to join in. The Olympics in Rio next year will theoretically be the first Games at which clones would be permitted to compete; equestrian sports’ governing body, the FEI, changed its rules in 2012. A clone of Tamarillo — the event horse who competed with William Fox Pitt at the Athens Olympics, and who died this summer — was born two years ago, and although he would be too young for 2016, Tomatillo would be more than ready by 2020.

Poor Tomatillo may never get the chance, though — because breeding’s where the money is. The original, Tamarillo, had been gelded and so couldn’t pass on his genes naturally. There’s every chance the clone, Tomatillo, will never even compete. Instead, he’ll be the sire Tamarillo couldn’t be.

Because of the cash involved, horses often pioneer fertility treatments that are later used in humans. The major breakthroughs in freezing sperm first came from the need to transport the seed of equine champions overseas. There’s even a story from the 1300s involving an Arab chief who stole semen from a stallion and used it to impregnate his own mare: the first artificial insemination. Embryo transfers were first carried out in horses in the early 1970s, so that a dam could continue her illustrious career undamaged by motherhood. This was almost a decade before the procedure was successfully used in humans. Back then embryo transfer was a controversial topic — people fretted and agonised over it, just as they do over cloning now.

Some worry that the clones of famous horses will be looked at simply as status symbols for the super-rich. You could own ‘a Cuartetera’ or ‘a Tamarillo’ in the same way that you can a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. But is that the real issue here?

More significantly, the success rate of cloning remains low, and animal-rights campaigners argue that the number of deformities, as well as the health problems that some clones still develop in later life, mean that it should be banned.

Then, even if all goes well and the technology advances, there’s the sporting argument. Is cloning an animal that you know has great potential a gentlemanly way of behaving? Isn’t it a little like betting on a certainty?

Cambiaso and his team hope so. ‘She is not like Sage — she is Sage,’ his right-hand man, Pablo Spinacci, has said of one of their clones. ‘She is the same, they are the same.’

Interestingly, Rebecca Smith doesn’t agree. Perhaps because Mini the cloned dachshund spent her first months in a lab, her character is ‘slightly different’ from her mother’s. Mini is less laid back, says Rebecca.

Even so, as the cost of cloning plummets, a significant market is bound to emerge here. A dog, it turns out, is not just for life, but potentially for ever.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

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  • blandings

    Will I be allowed to clone my favourite mistress?
    Mind you, as she peaked at thirty-five I will be in my coffin long before she’s performing at her best.
    Maybe I should clone myself as well.
    Fun, games and martinis for ever and ever.

    • ViolinSonaten b minor.

      You’d better clone your martini supplier as well if I were you. And was going to ask is this
      ‘ favourite mistress’ in the preforming arts, but thought better of it >:-)

      • blandings

        My mistress performs well, thankyou
        Very well after a couple of martinis actually, but then, don’t we all.
        This conversation is getting scandalous – I hope you are not going to blame me.

        • ViolinSonaten b minor.

          No you’d never be blamed. The fault of demon drink and your little bit
          of crumpet as my Grandmother would say. The way poor men are
          lead astray, so easily too. 😀

        • Marian Hunter

          Wh7y Blandings,? Perform Well?
          is she an acrobat?

          • blandings

            “is she an acrobat?”
            Ah, that would explain a lot.

          • ViolinSonaten b minor.

            Ah, I think your mistress, is epitome of Carmen, she’s the anti- Tosca.
            More then a mere femme fatale, using that cliché to exert control over men. Big hair, bare feet and open shoulders. She drinks, dances and fights in that feisty manner. ‘ Mirian’ above assumed she was a acrobat
            but she might be wrong– but then again >:-)

  • ViolinSonaten b minor.

    Wasn’t there once a sheep called Dolly that was cloned, not too sure what happened to her.
    No matter how much we love our pets, there is something quite sinister about the whole ‘ cloning’
    issue, God knows where this will lead.
    Mind you my little Highland Terrier might not mind, but saying that it’d not be the original, it’d be created in a laboratory a fake.

    • douglas redmayne

      Cloning is a very interesting technology. They have now sequenced a Neanderthal genome and are planning a nuclear transfer into a somatic human cell. Let’s hope some ethics bores don’t try to stop this.

      • KilowattTyler

        Biological warfare is a very interesting technology. It will soon be possible to design organisms to target specific ethnic groups. Let’s hope some ethics bores don’t try to stop this.

        • douglas redmayne


      • Mr B J Mann

        As you seem to be former Labour Red UKIP who shows his gratitude to the people who pay for his pension with comments like:

        douglas redmayne
        Spiteful little turd.

        douglas redmayne
        Looks like my pension will be much better than your pension, lol.

        douglas redmayne
        most who, including me deserve my pension which is clearly better than yours.

        I suspect scientists actually sequenced a Neanderthal genome and achieved a nuclear transfer into a somatic human cell before he was even born.
        About nine months before!

        • douglas redmayne

          Keep taking the medication.

          • Mr B J Mann

            Oh, you’re a doctor!
            Wouldn’t be one of those deserving underpaid ones who’ve killed a mate and nearly killed me?!

          • douglas redmayne

            Well I am sorry to hear this and such scum should be struck off, imprisoned and gave their pensions cancelled. There are indeed many scum with a bad attitude in the public sector but that should not tarnish the majority of us who do a good job, often for far less than a comparable private sector salary. I can see you have suffered so I take back all I gave said and apologise. The spiteful turds who want to take away my pension are mostly wealthy Tory libertarians who are your enemy as well: they do not believe in compensation and think that compensation is an obstacle to profit.

    • Mr B J Mann

      What most people don’t realise is that Dolly the Sheep wasn’t the result of years of scientific advances and refinement in techniques:

      She was one of a large number of attempts at cloning that happened, by luck, to have succeeded.

      More importantly, she suffered from a large number of health problems which in the end led to her death.

      People should not be misled by the idea that we have succeeded in finding a way to not only successfully produce cloned animals, but healthy ones, because we haven’t!

      We have only found a way to try to produce one, that sometimes produces a live birth, but one that is followed by health problems!!!

  • Biddesden Stud

    Tamarillo was an eventer so didn’t “race”. Please fact check before publishing.

  • goodsoldier

    You can clone the flesh but not the soul. And animals do have souls, in my opinion.

  • Edward Studor

    But will the pet be the same one, or will it just look identical? If the latteris the case then you may as well just go out and buy a similar looking pet for a tiny fraction of the cost.

    • No Man’s Land

      It will look identical, assuming you look after it the same way as it grows and it doesn’t catch any diseases which stunt it. It will be predisposed to certain personality traits but the majority will be the result of nurture not nature. In other words you are right.