Cloning Mutts

A well-funded, media-savvy, commercially venturesome project to clone a pet mutt in a major agribusiness-linked U.S. university would seem at the opposite end of the spectrum from the scientific and ethical practices emergent within canine genetic diversity worlds. Yet, such cloning projects raise similar issues: What kinds of collaborations produce the expertise and make the decisions for the biosocial evolution of companion species in technocultural dogland? What constitutes an ethic of flourishing and for which members of the companion-species community? Unlike the canine open health registry debates or the genome diversity discourses, the initial world of pet dog cloning was a surreal mix of state-of-the-art reproductive technoscience, inventive ethics, New Age epistemological pranksterism, and marketing extravagance.19

The Missyplicity Project began in 1998 with a $2.3 million grant for the first two years, from a wealthy donor, initially anonymous, to three senior researchers at Texas A&M University and their collaborators from several institutions. The project had an elaborate Web site in 2000, with comments from the public; stories about the mixed-breed dog, Missy, who was to be cloned; a list of research objectives; an account of home adoption and dog-training programs for the surrogate bitches used in the research ("All of our dogs have been trained using only positive reinforcement through clicker training"); and a state-of-the-art code of bioethics.20 Marketing was never far from the pet dog-cloning project, and advertising provided an easy, if cheap, window to the trading floor in cultural futures in dog geneticism. In advance of the ability to clone a dog, Animal Cloning Sciences, Inc. (ANCL), made a claim, presenting it over a picture of an elderly white woman holding her beloved terrier: "You no longer have to look forward to heart-rending grief at the death of your pet. If you preserve your pet's DNA now, you will have the option to clone your pet and continue your pet's life in a new body."21 Alien-identity-transfer experiments were never so successful, even on X-Files. Promising cloning technology for companion animals "soon," ANCL offered cryo-preservation of cells in 2000 at $595.

In a DogWorld ad, another company offering cell cryopreservation, Lazaron BioTechnologies, started by two embryologists and a business associate at the Louisiana Business and Technology Center, on the campus of Louisiana State University, urged readers to take tissue samples from their dogs before it is too late, so that they might "save a genetic life." This was something of an escalation of prolife rhetoric in the Age of Genes™! At the top of its Web site, Lazaron described itself as "saving the genetic life of valued animals."22 Never did value have more value, in all its kinds. Bioethics, "enterprised up," flourished here, where profit met science, conservation, art, and undying love-on-ice. Both companies dealt in agricultural and endangered species as well as companion animals, and the link to "saving endangered species" lent a value cachet not to be despised.

We met this enhancement in dog genome diversity contexts, which became a boundary object joining conservation and cloning discourses.

Cloning dogs could have a scientific appeal for dog breeders. Prize-winning writers on canine genetics and health as well as breeders themselves, John Cargill and Susan Thorpe-Vargas argued the merits of dog cloning to preserve genetic diversity.23 They wrote that the depletion of genetic diversity might be mitigated if it were possible to clone desirable dogs, rather than trying to duplicate qualities through excessive line-breeding and overuse of popular sires. Cryopreservation and cloning could then be one tool in the effort to manage the genomes of small populations in the best interests of the breed or species, they argued. In overwrought technoculture committed to reproduction of the same, cloning seemed an easier sell in some parts of dogland than simply doing more carefully matched outcrosses and committing to open health registries to mitigate the damage of genetic diversity depletion!

High seriousness characterized the rhetoric of the Web site of Genetic Savings and Clone, Inc., the only cryopreservation tissue and gene bank in 200i directly associated with cloning research, beginning with the Missyplicity Project. Buying out Lazaron's interest in that year, GSC put pets, livestock, wildlife, and assistance and rescue dogs on its agenda. The company's self-perception of its part in ethical, ontological, and episte-mological emergents was grand. Large investment, best science, and academic-business collaboration featured prominently; GSC did not see itself as a "vanity" cloning and biobanking endeavor. Its bioethics statement endorsed an extraordinary collage of progressive commitments: GSC pledged itself to maximize public knowledge and keep as proprietary only the minimum needed for its business goals. Transgenic alterations would be done only under severe scrutiny by the GSC Advisory Board. Biological weapons (figured as attack dogs!) would not be produced, nor would GSC's animals enter the food chain as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). No information would be knowingly shared with those attempting human cloning. GSC promised to raise its animals in "traditional," not "factory farm," conditions. "This means that the animals will spend part of every day grazing and interacting with humans and other animals—rather than being constantly isolated in sterile pens."24 GSC even pledged itself to organic farming methods and to other ecologically conscious practices.

So, GSC's traditionally raised, cloned animals and surrogate mothers were to have plenty of organic produce in their diets. Irony had little chance in the context of such high ethical seriousness. True, we had to take the company's word for everything; no public power intruded into this corporate idyll. Still, as the song goes, "Who could ask for anything more?"

We did, in fact, get even more in the Missyplicity Project. Its goals foregrounded basic knowledge of reproductive canine biology crucial to repopulating endangered species (e.g., wolves), basic knowledge of birth control for feral and pet dog populations, and the replication of "specific, exceptional dogs of high societal value—especially seeing-eye and search-and-rescue dogs."25 How would they ever make a buck, one wondered? Over ten million research dollars later in the ashes of Genetic Savings and Clone, Inc., in 2006, one knew the answer.

In 1998 Missyplicity's scientific founding team was a microcosm of crosscutting technoscience at institutions such as Texas A&M University, a "land- sea- and space-grant institution," with a faculty of twenty-four hundred and a research budget of $367 million.26 Dr. Mark Westhusin, the principal investigator, was a nuclear transfer specialist with an appointment in the Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology. He had a large lab and numerous publications from cloning research on agriculturally important mammals. The embryo transfer specialist was Dr. Duane Kraemer, PhD, DVM. "He and his colleagues have transferred embryos in more different species than any other group in the world."27 Kraemer was a cofounder of Project Noah's Ark, an international effort to bank the genomes of numerous wildlife species in case they become further endangered or extinct. Kraemer wanted to establish mobile satellite labs around the world to perform needed in vitro fertilizations and cryopreservation.28 Project Noah's Ark originated in the mid-1990s from Texas A&M students' "concerns for the world's endangered species."29

At the turn of the millennium, "saving the endangered [fill in the category]" emerged as the rhetorical gold standard for "value" in technoscience, trumping and shunting other considerations of the apparatus for shaping public and private, kin and kind, animation and cessation. "Endangered species" turned out to be a capacious ethical bypass for ontologically heterogeneous traffic in dogland.

Where better could "Cloning Mutts" conclude than at a solemn public program sponsored by Stanford University's Ethics in Society Program? On May 12, 2000, Lou Hawthorne, CEO of GSC and project coordinator of Missyplicity, spoke on the panel "The Ethics of Cloning Companion Animals."30 Also on the panel were two Stanford philosophy professors, a professor of theology and ethics at the Pacific School of Religion, and Lazaron chief executive, Richard Denniston, who was director of the Louisiana State University Embryology Biotechnology Laboratory. In the questions after the formal presentations, someone asked how the Missyplicity Project, with its mongrel subject, affected purebred dog breeders. Reaching for the gold standard, Denniston called mutts "an endangered species of one"! Hawthorne more modestly said that GSC was a "celebration of the mutt," since these one-of-a-kind pooches could not be bred to type.

A talented polemicist and media expert, Hawthorne was a confidence man in the American traditions so well understood by Herman Melville, P. T. Barnum, and New Age savants. Hawthorne was also a thoughtful and complex actor in cross-species technoscience. A trickster or confidence man tests the goodness of reasoning and valuing, perhaps

J. P. Rini, from CartoonBank.com. Copyright The New Yorker collection, 1997. All rights reserved.

showing up the baseness of what passes for gold in official knowledges, or at least tweaking the certainties of the pious, those "for" or "against" a technoscientific marvel. A confidence man in twenty-first-century America would also like to make some money, preferably lots of it, while saving the earth. Science studies scholar Joseph Dumit sees such figures to be engaged seriously with "playful truths."31 Not innocent truths; play is not innocent. Play can open up degrees of freedom in what was fixed. But loss of fixity is not the same thing as opening new possibilities for flourishing among companion species. I read Hawthorne as a master player in technoscience, whose not inconsiderable earnestness is overmatched by his trickster savvy.

At Stanford, Hawthorne staged his discussion of the Missyplicity Project's Code of Ethics with an origin story and travel narrative. He began as a Silicon Valley media and technology consultant with no knowledge of biotechnology or bioethics. In July 1997 his "rich and anonymous client" asked him to explore the feasibility of cloning his aging mutt. This study led to many and marvelous places in biotechnology land, including the conference Transgenic Animals in Agriculture in August 1997 in Tahoe. There Hawthorne heard about animals as "bioreactors," which could be manipulated without moral limit. He emerged "with two epiphanies": (i) Missyplicity would need a strong Code of Bioethics, "if just to distance ourselves from the giddy, anything-goes attitude of most bioengi-neers," in the words of the preprint; and (2) his lack of scientific training might be an advantage.

Like many seekers in the West, Hawthorne arrived in the East. Returning to his experience of filming a documentary on Zen in 1984, he retrieved "a core value of Buddhism—borrowed from Hinduism—ahimsa, commonly translated as 'non-harming.' Ahimsa, like most Buddhist ideas, is a koan, or puzzle without clear-cut solution, which can only be fully resolved through a process of personal inquiry. . . . I decided to put non-harming at the top of the Missyplicity Bioethics Code."32 His search, he believed, led to a way to live responsibly in emergent technocultural worlds, where kin and kind are unfixed.

Hawthorne's explication of the code revealed a wonderful collage of transactional psychology (all the partners—humans and dogs—should benefit); Buddhist borrowings; family values ("at the completion of their role in the Missyplicity Project, all dogs should be placed in loving homes"); no-kill animal shelter policies; and birth control discourse ("how many dogs could we save from death—by preventing their births in the first place—through the development of an effective canine contraceptive?"). If Margaret Sanger had been a dog activist, she would have been proud of her progeny. Animal rights, disability rights, and right-to-life discourses had echoes in the Missyplicity Code—with practical consequences for how the canine research subjects were treated, that is, as subjects, not objects. No matter how many trips are made to the East, in its soul Western ethics is riveted to rights discourses. In any case, if I were a research dog, I'd have wanted to be at Texas A&M and GSC in the Missyplicity Project, where the Zen of Cloning was more than a slogan. Besides, that is where "best science" lay. As Hawthorne noted, cloning dogs is harder than cloning humans. Missyplicity was against cloning those bipeds anyway, and as a reward, Missy's hominid companion species was able to do more leading-edge research.

The clincher in Hawthorne's savvy presentation at Stanford, where making money has never been a stranger to producing knowledge, was his introduction of Genetic Savings and Clone, Inc., "which is based in College Station, Texas, but [which] also heavily leverages the internet." Distributed networking was not limited to neural nets and activists. GSC "represents the first step toward commercializing the enormous amount of information being generated by Missyplicity." There was a backlog of demand for private cloning services. Hawthorne speculated that the price of cloning a pet dog (or cat—a project that succeeded in 2001) would "fall within three years to under $20,000—though at first it may be ten times as much."

Not surprisingly, these figures led Hawthorne to great works of art, those conserved, one-of-a-kind creations. "I'd like to end with this thought: great companion animals are like works of art. . . . Once we've identified these masterpieces, then arguably it's not just reasonable but imperative that we capture their unique genetic endowments before they're gone— just as we would rescue great works of art from a burning museum." "Unique genetic endowments" become like "vanishing indigenes"—needing the kind of "saving" that comes so easily in white settler colonies. In addition to saving a genetic life, this Zen bioethics seems to demand saving genetic art. Science, business, ethics, and art are the familiar renaissance partners at the origin of technopresence, where "evolution meets the free market; those who can afford it will save what they like and leave the rest to burn." That sounds like the play of scary, Peter Pan-like CEOs. Even as he mobilized the resources for bringing cloned dogs into the world, Hawthorne "playfully" tweaked official truths in his well-funded, trickster boosterism in the "Museum of Mutts."

At the end of "Cloning Mutts, Saving Tigers" I return to the homelier metaphors of Linda Weisser and her less dazzling work to persuade Pyr people to use an open health and genetics registry and to try to whelp only dogs who can improve the breed, helping the kin and kind of companion species to flourish. Immersed in emergences of many kinds, I saw value in aspects of the Missyplicity Project—without that fire at the end of things. I am definitely on the side of endangered tigers, as well as the people who inhabit the nations where the big cats (barely) live. Genetic diversity is a precious pattern for dogs as well as people, and cats are like dogs. The crucial issues remain, as always, attending to the details. Who makes decisions? What is the apparatus of production of these new sorts of being? Who flourishes, and who does not, and how? How can we stay on Linda Weisser's science-savvy riverbank without choking on the fog of the technopresent? If "saving the endangered [fill in the blank]" means personally and collectively cleaning the rivers so that the earth's always emergent kin can drink without harm or shame, who could ask for anything more?

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