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5 Ways Biotech Is Changing Our Pets and Wildlife

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page and our Millions Against Monsanto page.

Ever since humans first tamed a friendly wolf, we've been shaping animals to conform to our needs and wants. Just look at a Siberian husky next to a poofy, orange Pomeranian. Science journalist Emily Anthes' new book, Frankenstein's Cat, explores animals created by molecular genetics or wired up to electronics, but, she says, the ethical questions that come along with these futuristic critters  are not completely new.

Anthes considers herself an animal lover- she shares her author photo with her pooch, Milo-and the book works through her thoughts on animal welfare and  science.

From pretty glow-in-the-dark pet fish to goats that make anti-diarrhea milk, biotech animals cover an incredibly broad range. "Biotechnology sometimes get talked about as if it's this monolithic entity that only has one meaning, like all genetic engineering is ethically the same," she says, "We really need to start looking at individual cases and applications and highlight them." So Anthes and I talked about some  animals that may soon be found (and in some cases are already found) in pet shops, grocery stores, and research labs near you.

1. A neutered dog with prosthetic balls.

Neuticles-little silicon balls meant to replace the ones snipped out in neutering-are neither new or technologically advanced. And these purely cosmetic devices are more for the owner's benefit than the dog's. Anthes was interested in what Neuticles said about our desire to sculpt animal bodies-made all the more possible with biotechnology. "Neuticles are a very clear projection of human bodies on animal bodies," she says, "We're not alleviating a dog's anxiety; we're alleviating our own anxiety about changing a dog's body. It's an interesting example of how hard it is to untangle our own interests with a dog's interests." Also interesting to note: A study of Australian dog owners found that men are twice as likely than women to believe neutering alters a dog's "maleness."

Neuticles cost up to $599 each.

2. How many dogs have to suffer for one clone?

To clone a single dog in 2005, South Korean researchers harvested eggs from hundreds of female dogs and placed the fertilized embryos into more than a hundred surrogate dogs. Two puppies were born, and only one lived. Given the surplus of adoptable dogs in the world, making so many suffer for a single clone hardly seems defensible. (Cat lovers might be interested to know that a biological quirk makes it easy to mature cat eggs in a petri dish, so egg harvesting is slightly less awful in cats.)

Technology aside, pet cloning forces us to consider that it means to love a pet. When I asked Anthes she would clone her dog in a world where all technical problems were gone, she still said no. "I think one of the things about pet ownership is forming these relationships, and they're all their unique little beings." Most pet owners seem to agree. BioArts, a pet cloning company that tried to auction off five dog cloning spots, only sold four and closed in 2009. 


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