Design & Innovation

Barbra Streisand’s Clone Dog Army

Consumer-grade genetic testing and cloning has gone from speculative to mundane

1 min read

Barbra Streisand holding, and surrounded by, multiple copies of the same dog.
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I’d like to discuss how consumer-grade genetic testing–and cloning–has gone from speculative to mundane without any time to really take into account how completely, wonderfully zany the world we live in is, because Barbra Streisand cloned her dog. Twice.

This is not the first cloned pet (if you’ve got a spare $50,000, you too can avail yourselves of this service) but it is notable how”¦ blasé a lot of the world seems to be about this. Just this week the consumer genome company 23andme received FDA permission to sell home testing kits for genes linked with certain cancers. You cannot visit a genealogy site these days without being heavily upsold on ancestry testing–a dubious “science” that relies on a number of popular misconceptions about what things like “race” are. This stuff is going mainstream incredibly quickly, and the price will continue to fall.

Just as driverless cars could indirectly kill off much of what’s left of the tobacco industry, there are a dizzying constellation of second-order consequences from consumer-grade, affordable pet cloning:

  • Racehorse cloning makes it possible to sell studs many times over; it’s easy to imagine a similar market emerging, with companies selling copies of “[Your Fave’s] dog” (or copies of some Insta-famous dog, even).
  • There’s already a huge problem with pedigree dog breeds being born with severe health issues because of intensive inbreeding; if you can clone “pure”-breed dogs that make this problem even worse, in the same way the pursuit of aesthetic perfection in grocery produce means edible fruits and vegetables get thrown away rather than sold. (And how all the bananas are dying off, because clones.)
  • I don’t even want to think about what could happen to adoption rates for shelter dogs in a world with on-demand dogs in any shape you might want.
  • These “clones” are not the same animal, despite the genome; Streisand has said she doesn’t recognize the same look in their eyes as her original dog. Not inconceivable that people could clone dogs that they treat as safe, but which end up dangerous. This American Life explored this in their classic segment about Chance the bull in 2005.

It is not surprising that Barbra Streisand would want to deny the reality of mortality, but pets serve a useful purpose: They teach kids that everyone dies. Who knows what happens to our sense of permanence and loss in a world where not every accident has actual consequences?

I’ll end by leaving you with this clip of Streisand going on Oprah and singing a song about one of her dead dogs, while a slideshow of pictures of said dog plays in the background:

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How We Get To Next was a magazine that explored the future of science, technology, and culture from 2014 to 2019. This article is part of our Design & Innovation section, which looks at new devices, concepts, and inventions that are changing our world. Click the logo to read more.