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Dog clone company takes its first orders

THE WORLD’S first commercial dog cloning company has opened for business and taken a £75,000 order to reproduce a dead Pit Bull Terrier which saved its owner's life.

The South Korean firm was originally established to clone specialist dogs, such as those involved in detecting drugs. However, its first commission has come from a woman in the United States who wants scientists to clone her pet, called Booger.

RNL Bio, based in Seoul, said it is already working on the order. The work will be carried out by a team of Seoul National University (SNU) scientists led by professor Lee Byeong-chun, a key member of disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk's research team and is planning to deliver the animal in February next year.

Most of Hwang's well-publicised breakthroughs in cloning human stem cells were discovered to be fake last year. But the SNU team was successful in creating the world's first dog clone, an Afghan hound named ‘Snuppy’. Since Lee and Hwang cloned Snuppy no other scientists have succeeded in creating cloned dogs.

The client, Bernann McKunney, of California, was very attached to her pet Booger because he had saved her life during an attack by another dog which bit off her arm.

Kim Yoon said that ear tissue from the dog had been preserved at a US biotech laboratory before its death.

DNA from the sample could now be used in an attempt to create a clone, she said, although the chances of success were about 25%.

Cells have been extracted from Booger’s ear tissue and inserted into ova which were then implanted into eight bitches. RNL Bio is charging customers $150,000 (£75,000) for the clones, which clients pay only after they receive their new pet. RNL's chief executive, Ra Jeong-chan, said he expected up to 500 orders within a few years from rich pet owners.

He said: ‘We have been focusing on cloning specialised dogs, such as narcotic-detection dogs. But we won't refuse orders for pet dogs. There are many people who want to clone their pet dogs.
‘I believe we can greatly lower the cost of cloning if we can double the yield (of fertilised eggs],’ he added.

Cho Seong-Ryul, RNL’s marketing director, said the company’s success rate for producing dogs by cloning was high with around one out of every four surrogate mother dogs producing cloned puppies

‘This will mark the first time that a dog is being cloned in a commercial contract,’ Cho said. ‘The cost for cloning a dog may come down to less than $50,000 as cloning is becoming an industry.’
Several cloning experts around the world were sceptical about the company’s chance of success and critical of the company’s ethics.

Professor Susan Rhind, director of veterinary teaching at Edinburgh University's Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, said she would advise pet owners not to consider cloning their animals.

‘All sorts of abnormalities can occur and you are not going to get the same animal with the same temperament and the same features,’ she said. ‘It's certainly not the same thing – not an identical twin or a non-identical twin.

‘I'm sympathetic with people who psychologically are so attached to their pets, but I wouldn't say that cloning is the solution.’

Dr Helen Wallace, of Genewatch UK, said: ‘We're opposed to the cloning of animals for pets as it involves considerable suffering for the animals involved.

‘Normally it takes a number of unsuccessful attempts before one embryo survives and is healthy, and the mother of the dogs and the embryos will suffer in the process.’

Pet cloning was initiated in the US when a woman paid £25,000 for a cat to be cloned. RNL Bio plans to eventually focus on cloning not only pets, but also special dogs like those trained to sniff out bombs. Established in 2000, the company produces animal disinfectants and health supplements, while also conducting stem cell research.