They are the only U.S. company that clones pets. But they have customers from all over the world. "So far only one from Argentina. The data is confidential, but since the client made it public that he cloned, we can confirm that we cloned Conan."
From Texas, Melain Rodriguez, customer service manager of the company ViaGen Pets, tells Clarín with the rhythm of suspense, adds mystery, and with that previous moment – something very American, like when the envelope is opened and a winner is announced – it meets expectations.
He knows that the information he has, which seems minimal, almost unnecessary, is of public interest. Not just for Argentina. And it sets her free.
Conan was Javier Milei's pet. And once the dog was dead, the rabies didn't end. Everything about that huge English mastiff was of interest post-mortem during the campaign, before his human father became President of Argentina.
The revelations of the book "El Loco", by journalist Juan Luis González, were replicated all over the planet. It didn't matter that the Leon was a professional goalkeeper, a rockstar, or that he was an outsider that Alejandro Fantino gave birth to.
According to the company that cloned Conan, there are no other Argentines who have done the same. Photo: Editorial Perfil
He imported the chapter on the esoteric connection with Conan, who died in 2017, and the interspecies medium who decoded for Karina Milei the barks transmitted from the other plane, with, apparently, economic guidelines to get the country out of the crisis.
Amid so much mysticism, there's also a lot of science around Conan. Of the most advanced, one that managed to create five clones from that dog DNA. More advisors with a good sense of smell? It's not proven. But they created them in their own image, like when Fátima Florez plays Cristina.
Two American companies were involved in the cloning of Conan. One, PerPETuate, was responsible for the first part of the process: the cultivation of the cells of the original dog and the cryopreservation of that material. Another, ViaGen Pets, took it upon itself to use those cells to effectively clone Conan.
PerPETuate dedicates the cover of its website to Argentinian clones. "They don't clone pets. We worked together with this dog. From the genetic material that was mailed to them in the U.S. from Argentina, they cultured Conan's cells for a few weeks, and we cloned him," insists Rodríguez.
Conan and his clones. The photo uploaded by the company PerPETuate.
This doesn't take away from PerPETuate, which has a strong connection to the deceased Conan.
"There were several puppies, which is very rare. Very rare. The Conan clones are a very unique case," remarks the ViaGen representative from Austin.
Milei celebrated receiving the extra puppies (in almost 100% of clones one is born, and at most the bonus is a second puppy) and, in addition, he made business. "The value of the service is $50,000. It doesn't matter how many are born. That's the fee. There is no extra cost per extra clone."
They still haven't congratulated their client on becoming president. But if Milei thanked his "four-legged children" for first place in the PASO from the stage, they would like to salute the man who turned Conan (II), Murray, Milton, Robert and Lucas into the most famous cloned presidential mascots in the world.
Long live Conan
"Cultured cells can remain cryopreserved indefinitely. You don't have to clone the dog immediately (after death or DNA extraction). And, if Milei wants to do it again in the future, she can. We can clone Conan unlimitedly. We have saved cells from the original, and PerPETuate as well," Rodriguez reveals.
They have millions of cells left over from that same dog, which Gonzalez said in the book, died on a Sunday in October from spinal cancer.
Milei and the Conan clones, on a TV channel.
"We only need a small portion to do it again. They can be regenerated, so we can grab the frozen ones, grow them, and preserve them again. Essentially, there's an unlimited source of Conan clones," she clarifies.
What is the Dog Cloning Success Rate? "We don't have it calculated, because when we do we transfer several embryos (between 10 and 15) to the surrogate dog. Many times, even if there are multiple embryos, we only get a single dog. In Milei's case, it was 5 puppies, which is a very high success. If no positive pregnancies are achieved, we transfer embryos to another dog. It is very difficult to quantify the success rate. Lately, I could say it's 100%, because the puppy is born alive," ViaGen told Clarín.
To The New York Times — which brought Argentine mastiffs to its pages and didn't forget to mention the opinion of animal advocates about the dogs used to surrogate the clones — the company refused to answer how many eggs they used to clone Conan.
How identical is a clone? "They're not physically identical, but they're very similar. We can't guarantee that the clone will have the same personality, but we do know that intelligence and temperament have a strong genetic component. If it's raised the same way, it could be very similar," he explains.
The biggest difference they notice between clone vs. original is in the coat markings.
"If the dog has a white stripe on its head, the clone has it in a different place. I didn't see Conan as adults, but I'm sure they're very much the same as him. Same body shape, the size of their ears," Rodriguez says.
Javier Milei, with his sister Karina, receiving a painting of Conan during the campaign in Salta.
If the original dog has a disease, can its clones be prevented from having it? "If there is a genetic component, such as the type of diabetes that does not arise from diet, it may also be that the clone develops it. If not, no. Gene editing is not possible today, perhaps in the future," concludes the company's representative.
Those who want to clone their dog or cat in the U.S. (the price is the same, no matter the size or breed) will pay the $50,000 Milei paid in 2018. There was no inflation.
At ViaGen, $25,000 is paid at the beginning of the process and another $25,000 after the clone is born. If there is no success, 100% of the down payment is refunded. To cryopreserve the cells until cloning is decided, they charge $150 per month. After you've cloned, keeping them in your freezers is free.
From the time the sample is taken and the clone is received at home, it takes between 3 and 6 months. The clones leave the company when they are 8 weeks old. ViaGen already has Argentines who have started the process, but no one else has yet put the collar on the clone.
They're all Conan
Although this article talks about science, that of the cloning of pets, which is also advancing, the genetics of interest in the subject is the dead Conan. Strictly speaking, from the DNA alone, the five dogs are Conan.
The cloning process has been the same since Dolly became the first cloned mammal and the most famous sheep to this day, born in 1997.
Scientists extract the nucleus of each donated egg, empty it of its "own" DNA, and into that space insert cells filled with the DNA of the animal to be cloned.
"With an electric shock, the formation of the embryo is stimulated from a single cell that begins to multiply immediately," Raymond Page, 58, director of PerPETuate's laboratory in Massachusetts, told Clarín.
This technique came to him in 1999, while he was working in a lab in Virginia. "The guy who cloned Dolly, that Scottish team, showed her to me," says the bioengineer.
His colleague, Ron Gillespie, the owner of the company – the first dedicated to the genetic preservation of pets – is the one who received the email from Milei asking how to perpetuate Conan.
Page, like Rodríguez, does not know the president-elect personally, but he did visit Argentina. He would like to return, "not only to see the clones" digging wells at the Quinta de Olivos, but to clone the great experience he had with our food.
"Yes, the Conan thing is miraculous. On average you get one or two clones. Not five. And a lot of people I talked to who cloned told me that their dogs have a very similar personality to the originals," she says proudly.
In all the debate, still ongoing, about whether or not Milei talks to her dead dog, it is also said that she does not get over that death, and that not even the clones (which in the last interviews she also mentioned as her grandchildren) alleviate the loss.
Page searches the PerPETuate registry and combats this climate of paranormal rumors with exclusive data.
"We received Conan's biopsy when the dog was alive (a small sample of his skin) on June 12, 2014 (the shipment from here was by FedEx) and the cells with his DNA were frozen (in liquid nitrogen, at minus 200 degrees) 11 days later. We sent them to ViaGen at the end of autumn 2017 (between November and December). The dogs were born in 2018," she specifies.
After the call for this note, he sends an extra piece of information via FaceTime: "Milei has been paying us the $100 per year for the preservation of Conan's cells."
The link continues. With Conan.
The first cloned dogs were produced from cells grown by this company in South Korea. That was in 2009.
The Ministry of Cloning
In one of her most popular TikToks, Milei vehemently tears out sticky pieces of paper shouting "Afueeera!" Each is a ministry that he promised to eliminate.
But he also said he would appoint Daniel Salamone, a scientist who dedicated his career to cloning animals, as head of Conicet. Cloning already has a place in this government.
Salamone was the director of the doctoral thesis of Gabriel Vichera, co-founder of Kheiron Biotech, a company that cloned 400 polo horses in Argentina, and the figure is expected to rise to 550 shortly.
Vichera hasn't cloned her dog yet. A Jack Russell in which he took advantage of his castration to extract and cryopreserve his cells. "If someone tells you that they cloned a dog here, they are lying to you," he begins.
Why, if we are a power in equine cloning, are pets not cloned in Argentina?
"It's not that the three companies that clone horses here don't have the technical or scientific capacity to clone pets. It's a question of the market. The procedure is the same as in a horse (they also clone cows). Since Conan became known, every 15 days I receive inquiries to find out if they can clone the dog. When they hear the price, they're not interested anymore," he says.
Why wouldn't it be cheaper to do it in Argentina? "What we have here are gene banks, to cryopreserve these cells, and eventually clone, sending that material to the United States or South Korea. If I did it, I only offer the cryopreservation service, I would have to charge you the $50,<> that that company charges, because I would send it to them," he explains.
Equine cloning, he distinguishes, is for business.
"You pay $800,<> for the 'brand', for the best polo mare in the world, you don't pay for the process, the cost is the genetics. Dog cloning is an emotional thing, the value of feeling."
To clone a pet, Vichera explains, just like a horse, it's best for the DNA sample to be taken from the animal alive and as young as possible. That raises the growth potential of stem cells that are extracted from the bone marrow.
In the case of pets, cloning companies send a kit for tissue biopsy, which should arrive at the lab within 48 hours. But they work even with the current shipping delays of up to 4 days.
Conan's sample, in 2014, would have been taken by a veterinarian from Cordoba, who sent the tissue to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, at a cost of 1200 dollars. PerPETuate could not confirm the identity of the Argentine professional.