Man’s best friend doesn’t have to be one of a kind

The furry, gray-and-white dog snoozing under Lou Hawthorne’s desk doesn’t look like a controversial figure, but the way she came into the world prompts responses from exhilaration to derision.

Mira, a border collie-husky mix, is a clone of Hawthorne’s dog Missy, who died in 2002 at age 15.

“We’ve had a lot of dogs, but Missy was amazing,” the Mill Valley resident said. “She was more beautiful, smarter and had an eerie capacity with language.”

Hawthorne, CEO of BioArts International, began the Missyplicity project in 1997 to find a way to clone his beloved dog. In December, Mira was born. Her sisters, Chin-Gu and Sarang, followed in February. All were born from a small sample of Missy’s tissue and their authenticity as clones was verified by UC Davis. Fourth and fifth clones have reportedly been born but not formally announced.

Not only do they look like Missy, Hawthorne said, but they share her passion for snuggling, preference for sleeping outside and penchant for stealing human treasures.

Next month, BioArts will launch a global auction to clone the dogs of five bidders. The auction, July 5-9, will begin at $100,000. A sixth person, the winner of an essay contest at www.bestfriendsagain.com, will win the opportunity to clone his or her dog for free.

Hawthorne said that based on the number of qualified participants who have signed up so far, he expects about three dozen people to vie for the chance to clone their dogs.

The cloning program is a partnership between Hawthorne’s company and Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in South Korea. Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, who produced the first cloned dog, Snuppy, in 2005 at Seoul National University, leads the team. Hwang was expelled after lying about creating human embryonic stem cells through cloning. Despite that, Hawthorne said, he remains the world’s foremost authority on canine cloning.

Meanwhile, public acceptance of dog cloning may have a ways to go.

Charlene Evans, a 36-year-old San Francisco secretary, said she would never replace her miniature dachshund through science.

“They’re right that they’re never going to find a dog like the one they have,” she said. “But instead of getting their dog cloned, they should move on and rescue another dog — maybe a better dog — that would otherwise die.”

Peninsula Humane Society spokesman Scott Delucchi said that while genes are important, dog personalities also are influenced by experience, and that is tougher to replicate.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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