Javier Milei and his 5 cloned dogs in the Argentine elections | ET REALITY

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After achieving a surprising first place finish in Argentina’s presidential primaries in August, Javier Milei grabbed a microphone in front of a raucous crowd and grateful Conan, Murray, Milton, Robert and Lucas.

“Who else?” he said. “My four-legged children.”

Milei, a far-right libertarian who is the favorite in Argentina’s presidential election on Sunday, would head to the country’s presidential offices, the Casa Rosada, not with his wife and children, but with five mastiffs who have long been He has called his children.

Of course, he is speaking figuratively. However, technically speaking, those five dogs are not traditional descendants of any animal. They are genetic copies of Milei’s ancient dog, also named Conan, and were created in a laboratory in upstate New York.

Milei’s five cloned dogs have become objects of fascination in Argentina’s presidential elections and a window into her unusual candidacy. For months, the national debate has revolved around his rise, his eccentric personality and his radical economic proposals – such as eliminating Argentina’s central bank and replacing its currency with the US dollar – to save the nation of 46 million people from one of its worst financial crises in decades. .

Mr. Milei has named his original dog, Conan, after the movie “Conan the barbarian”, a central player in his backstory, saying that the dog saved his life and he spent numerous Christmases alone with it when he felt abandoned by others.

He has turned the cloned dogs into symbols of his libertarian ideals by naming four of them after three conservative American economists: Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman and Robert Lucas.

And at his rallies, he has held up paintings of his dogs, which he distributes to the crowd before grabbing a roaring chainsaw, his usual metaphor for the deep cuts he wants to apply to the Argentine government.

Milei has also signaled that cloning could find a place in his government. Last month she said that, if elected, she would appoint an Argentine scientist who has dedicated his career to animal cloning as president of an influential national scientific council.

“He is considered the national cloner,” Milei said of scientist Daniel Salamone. “This is the future.” Mr. Milei’s scientific beliefs, including denial of humans’ role in climate change, have worried scientists.

Milei is the favorite in Sunday’s election, but polls suggest he will not receive enough votes to win outright and avoid a runoff in November.

Milei’s cloned dogs are also an example of a growing trend among wealthy pet owners that is raising complicated ethical questions.

A handful of companies in the United States, China and South Korea have cloned hundreds of dogs since the first cloned canine in 2005. Barbra Streisand owns two clones of her Coton de Tulear, while Barry Diller and Diane von Furstenberg have three clones of their Jack. Russell terriers.

To clone her dogs, Milei hired PerPETuate, a company run by Ron Gillespie, 75, who got his start in the world of livestock insemination and now runs a “genetic preservation” company on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Gillespie said he received an email from Milei in 2014, saying he was interested in cloning Conan. “He said this dog was his life,” Gillespie said.

For $1,200, Milei sent a sample of Conan’s tissue to Gillespie’s business partners, scientists at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Worcester, Massachusetts, who used that tissue to grow cells filled with Conan’s DNA and then cryogenically freeze them. (Some cells remain frozen in Worcester.)

In 2018, after Conan’s death, Milei reached out again. She was willing to pay the $50,000 cost for a procedure that would guarantee her at least a clone.

Cloning a dog typically requires more than 100 eggs (or about a year’s worth of eggs from five to 10 canines) that are surgically removed from donor dogs, Gillespie said.

Dog cloning technology is largely the same since Dolly the sheep became the first mammal clone in 1997. Scientists remove the nucleus from each donated egg and clean it of all its DNA. Into these empty eggs, scientists insert cells filled with DNA from the animal being cloned.

“We then stimulate the egg with an injection of electricity, and that forms a single-celled embryo that immediately begins to multiply,” Gillespie said.

Then, 10 to 15 of those embryos (based entirely on the DNA of the dog being cloned) are implanted into the uterus of a surrogate dog.

Some bioethicists and animal welfare groups question the ethics of pet cloning, both due to the use of animals to donate eggs and carry cloned fetuses, and due to the fact that there are already millions of unwanted pets.

Jessica Pierce, a bioethicist who studies the relationship between humans and dogs, has said that cloning contributes to the creation of “a canine subclass” of surrogates who sometimes live difficult lives to produce clones. “I don’t think it’s too strong to call what we do with reproductive work dogs a form of incarceration,” she said.

Pet cloning companies reject that characterization, saying many surrogate dogs are adopted by loving families.

Pierce said cloning also destroys more embryos than typical dog pregnancies. He said that apparently contradicts the beliefs of Milei, who has vowed to try to ban abortion because she says life begins with fertilization.

Milei’s campaign declined to comment or make him available for an interview.

To clone Milei’s dogs, Gillespie hired ViaGen Pets, based outside Austin, Texas, the only American company that clones dogs. ViaGen declined to say how many eggs it used to clone Conan.

ViaGen said that in nearly three out of four cases, cloning a dog produces a single clone.

In the case of Milei, in 2018, it produced five.

“I was ecstatic,” Gillespie said. Once the clones arrived in Argentina, one began responding to “Conan” and seemed to enjoy the same television show as Mr. Milei’s previous dog, so Mr. Milei named the clone Conan, Gillespie said. Mr. Milei told him.

Conan “is literally a son to me,” says Milei he told an Argentine news site in 2018. The other four clones “are like my grandchildren.”

He has also said that the dogs are a handful. “My house is like Kosovo” he said on television in 2018. “In two weeks they have eaten almost four armchairs.” Five years later, she said the largest of the group weighs 220 pounds.

During the election campaign, Milei has largely kept the dogs in day care, out of sight. But they have continued to be part of the debate.

Sergio Massa, Argentina’s economy minister, who is polling just behind Milei in Sunday’s vote, criticized Milei’s rejection of global warming, saying parents are concerned about the future of the planet, unlike those “who “They talk to their dogs as if they were their children.” .”

Argentine media have also reported that Milei has privately said that he has received strategic advice from his dogs.

When asked if he, in fact, follows his dogs’ advice, Milei played coy.

“What I do inside my house is my problem,” he says. he told the Spanish newspaper El País. At his campaign closing event Wednesday night, he called his dogs “the best strategists in the world.”

Celia Melamed, an Argentine veterinarian who leads a workshop on communication with animals, said that one of her students has been Karina Milei, Milei’s sister and campaign director.

Melamed said he can feel the emotions of animals through a kind of metaphysical connection. “If I connect with an animal and it’s afraid, I feel the fear in my body,” he said. “It seems esoteric, and maybe it is, because until now science has not addressed this.”

Gillespie, the Hawaii cloning entrepreneur, said that since learning on Facebook that his client was a politician, he had watched Milei’s rise with fascination.

“As I tell my wife,” he said, “I don’t have a vote in the Argentine elections, but I do have five dogs in the race.”

Lucía Cholakian Herrera contributed with reports.

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