CEDAR PARK, Texas - Science has come a long way since "Dolly the sheep."
Once, only a science fiction pipe-dream, now you can clone your precious pets: your dog, your cat or your horse. And you can start the process right here in Central Texas.
The Cedar Park-based ViaGen Pets & Equine offers genetic preservation and cloning services for customers all over the globe.
"What that really means is we can preserve the DNA of the beloved cat, dog or horse and we can provide a client with the opportunity to move forward with cloning at any later time," said ViaGen's Codi Lamb.
Lamb says think of it as producing an identical twin to the original animal. "A lot of clients do reach out to us when they're going through a difficult time, whether it be a terminal illness diagnosis or coming to terms with the loss of a pet. Our services really just provide them hope of maybe not completely losing that pet," she said.
Lamb says they'll send a biopsy kit to the customer or veterinarian.
"It's a 4-millimeter skin-punch sample so about half the size of a pea. And that's sent back to us inside that same biopsy kit. And from there we will do a cell-culture that will allow the living cells within the tissue samples to grow and multiply," Lamb said.
The samples are kept in a liquid-nitrogen tank in Cedar Park...a chilly minus 190 degrees Celsius.
Lamb says customers can choose to just bank the DNA or move forward with cloning.
The cloning, Lamb says, takes place in a lab in New York State. And it's like a combination of IVF and surrogacy.
"What we do is we take an unfertilized egg from the same species that we're cloning and remove the nucleus. So we're just interested more in using the structure of the egg," Lamb said.
A cell is inserted into the egg. The egg and cell are fused together to create an embryo and that's transferred to the surrogate mother.
But just how familiar is this new pet? Is the personality the same? Temperament?
"That is heavily influenced by genetics but also environment. The nature vs. nurture conversation. But a lot of the feedback we do get from clients is that personality is going to be very similar to the original pet," she said.
Lamb says markings will also be similar.
"It would still have those black spots. But they might not be in the exact same shape or exact same location," Lamb said.
Obviously cloning a pet is not for everybody -- some may have ethical concerns or budgetary.
The cost of cloning a cat: $35,000. $50,000 for a dog. A horse will set you back $85-thousand.
To simply bank the tissue, is $500.
For those who may not be able to afford cloning now: lamb says the process is a lot less expensive than it once was.
"Technology is always evolving so if something allows us to cut our costs 5, 10 years from now then a client that's had their cells banked for that long can take advantage of that discounted cloning price," Lamb said.