Over tea in her Malibu estate, Barbra Streisand sat for an interview with Variety recently to discuss her storied career, the #MeToo movement, and breaking the glass ceiling in Hollywood. But in the meandering exchange, she inadvertently dropped some petri-dish cracking news as well: she had her late, beloved dog cloned.
Between a quick mention of future directing projects and an insult of President Donald Trump, the article breezily notes that two of her three Coton de Tulear dogs are clones of her previous dog Samantha, who died in 2017 at the age of 14. The two clones, Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett, were created from cells collected from Samantha’s mouth and stomach. The third dog, Miss Fanny, is reportedly a distant cousin.
In appearance, the duplicate doggos are identical to Samantha as well as to each other. To tell them apart, Streisand fitted them with different colored attire—purple for one and red for the other—which was her inspiration for their names.
While the article doesn’t dig up the details of the cloning process or even Streisand’s motivation for the ruff replicas, it touches on a sentiment likely to resonate with pet owners. Streisand reported that she’s looking to see if the two will fetch memories of Samantha’s ways. So far, the answer is “no.”
“They have different personalities,” Streisand told Variety. “I’m waiting for them to get older so I can see if they have her brown eyes and her seriousness.”
The shaggy-dog story is not barking mad. Since scientists cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996 using a method called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), geneticists have been tweaking and testing cloning methods. Recently, Chinese researchers were the first to use SCNT to clone primates, creating the adorable but ethically troubling Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua.
Unleash the clones
In 2015, NPR reported that Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in Seoul, South Korea, was offering pet cloning for $100,000 a pup. At the time, the company said it had cloned 600 dogs. The company was founded by Hwang Woo Suk, who had reportedly become something of a scientific outcast after his 2004 claim of the first cloned human embryo was found to be fraudulent in 2006.
The price has since rolled over, with companies such as Texas-based ViaGen providing competition. ViaGen charges $50,000 for cloning dogs and $25,000 for cats.
But pet lovers who choose to take that walk may not end up where they’re expecting. As was chronicled in the This American Life story titled “If by Chance We Meet Again” about the cloning of Chance the bull, cloned animals aren’t exactly like their originals. Environmental factors and epigenetics—modifiable tags on DNA that alter how genes are expressed—can steer development and personality. The result can be an eerily similar, yet stunningly unique critter.
Besides the impossibility of bringing back pets from the dead through genetics, others also have a bone to pick with Streisand’s choice. In a statement to Page Six, the animal-rights group PETA noted:
[W]hen you consider that millions of wonderful adoptable dogs are languishing in animal shelters every year or dying in terrifying ways when abandoned, you realize that cloning adds to the homeless-animal population crisis.