Photo by Marleen Collins
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA: THE WORLD’S first (and so far only) cloned dog celebrated its first birthday on Monday of this week, as the leader of the South Korean scientific team that produced the Afghan hound faced a criminal investigation for possible fraud and ethics violations.
The team led by scientist Hwang Woo-suk unveiled the dog named Snuppy, picture with his mother, last August amid global fanfare. Time magazine named Snuppy one of the most amazing inventions for 2005.
Hwang once basked in acclaim for his scientific achievements, with some in the country labelling him "the pride of Korea."
But by the end of last year, however, his reputation was in tatters amid charges his team deliberately manipulated data and violated ethical standards in human egg procurement.
Hwang has since lost his professorship at Seoul National University and the case has been described by scientific experts as one of the biggest scientific frauds in recent history.
The birthday celebrations at the university where Hwang once ran his lab were subdued. Snuppy, short for Seoul National University puppy, is in good health and weighs about 64 lbs, university officials said. For his birthday, Snuppy enjoyed two of his favourite foods; ice cream and sausages.
As reported by OUR DOGS in January, an investigation panel at the university said Hwang's team fabricated key data in two studies once hailed as landmark works on cloning human embryonic stem cells. However, the panel validated Hwang’s dog cloning research and confirmed that Snuppy was an actual clone.
Soon after the report, South Korean prosecutors started a criminal investigation into Hwang and his team. Hwang has since maintained he is a victim of a conspiracy to discredit him. .
But post-Hwang, the lab at Seoul National University is continuing with its research into cloning technology.
"The government has agreed to support us and promised us significant funding," Professor Kim Min-kyu commented.
Dogs are considered one of the most difficult animals to clone because of their reproductive cycle. Snuppy was implanted into a yellow Labrador surrogate mother and was born after a normal pregnancy.
The process was difficult and costly. A total of 1,095 reconstructed embryos were transferred into 123 surrogate bitches to create just two living puppies, as 121 embryos either aborted of failed to ‘take’. The other cloned puppy died after 22 days from pneumonia.
Both puppies were created from an adult skin cell taken from a male Afghan hound, using the same technique that was used to create Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep.
The Afghan was chosen because of its striking looks, remaining members of Hwang's team said.
The process, they said, was far too costly and inefficient to be used to clone pet dogs.