World's first commercial dog clones
The Times, August 6 2008
A dog is not just for Christmas, or even for life. If you've got the cash, it could be for eternity.
South Korean biotechnologists have engineered a pet resurrection that, until recently, seemed commercially impossible: they have reunited a Californian woman with her dearest friend - or, at least, genetic copies derived from the frozen remains of his ear.
More than GBP25,000 the poorer but weeping with joy, Bernann McKinney, 57, became the world’s first paying customer yesterday in the strange new industry of canine cloning.
Held in her arms was a quintet of newborn puppies, genetically identical not only with each other but with the late, lamented Booger, a pitbull terrier who died of old age two years ago.
Declaring the whole affair a "miracle", Ms McKinney said: "They are perfectly the same as their daddy. I am in heaven here. I am a happy person."
Ms McKinney paid a high financial price for the reunion. Even at the knockdown fee offered to her as a first-time cloner, she had to sell her house to meet the cost.
"I had to make sacrifices and I dream of the day, some day, when everyone can afford to clone their pet, because losing a pet is a terrible, terrible loss to anyone," she said.
After ten years of happy companionship, Ms McKinney felt the loss of Booger keenly. This was, after all, a ferociously loyal hound who had once saved her life by fending off an attacking mastiff.
Ms McKinney's hand and legs were savaged in the attack and, she said, it was only via Booger’s loyal assistance - fetching her clothes and shoes, bringing her cans of drink and opening doors - that she was able to make it through the long months of recuperation.
The mastiff, another of Ms McKinney's pets, had been driven mad by being given ten times the recommended dose of medication for a bee sting, she said. She has told US media how the animal attacked her outside her remote farmhouse, shredding her left arm up to the elbow, tearing one of her legs and nearly ripping the fingers off her right hand.
He was chewing at her stomach when she said she called out: “Help me, God. Help me, Jesus. Help me, Booger,” and the smaller dog succeeded in driving off the mastiff long enough for her to drag herself into the safety of her car.
Ms McKinney, a former beauty queen, had to undergo many episodes of reconstructive surgery and was confined to a wheelchair for months.
The world of pet cloning is not free from scandal. The cloning operation was undertaken by RNL Bio, a company working with scientists at Seoul National University and which announced yesterday that it was open for dog-cloning business worldwide.
It was in the university's laboratories that, to the joy of South Koreans, the world's first cloned dog was born in 2005: an Afghan hound named Seoul National University Puppy, or Snuppy.
Since then, other dogs have been cloned without charge; copies of the best police sniffer dogs have been born in recent months and have begun their training with the South Korean customs service.
Not long after the birth of Snuppy, however, Hwang Woo Suk, the genetic engineer regarded as a national hero, was forced out of the university in disgrace. After triumphing with dog cloning he had moved on to work in human embryonic stem cells; unfortunately, parts of his research were exposed as fraudulent and he left for the United States. Mr Hwang now works for BioArts International, a company that is fighting RNL Bio over claims of patent infringement.
RNL Bio said that it could clone up to 300 dogs next year and would consider cloning camels for wealthy Middle Eastern clients.
The cloning of Booger realises a commercial dream that began more than ten years ago. In 1997, when Scottish scientists cloned Dolly the sheep, biotech laboratories around the world began to explore which other animals might be reproduced. A number of species worked well, but dogs present peculiar obstacles because of their unpredictable ovulation cycle and difficulties extracting a mature egg.
In California, entrepreneurs now involved with RNL Bio's main rival in the dog-cloning field set up a company called Genetic Savings and Clone. Despite producing a few cloned cats, it folded only months before the birth of Snuppy, citing the difficulties that it had encountered in cloning dogs.
Have your say [comments on the site]
The greatest tribute she could have paid to the memory of her beloved Booger (a rescued dog apparently) would have been to rescue another dog(s) from the thousands of high kill shelters/pounds that currently exist in the United States. This woman is not an animal lover - she's just plain selfish!
Kim, Los Angeles, USA
Well as far as cloning a lost loved one, i wouldnt have a problem being cloned after i died. But seriously, i see no problem with cloned pets, if a person can afford it and its what they want. If there is a market for it then the industry will survive and if it survives people want it [same could be said for hired assassins, elephant tusks or weapons of mass destruction! - ed].
David Hagenbaigh, wilkes-barre, usa
Ridiculous. Why could she not keep her home and adopt a pound puppy or two? Those poor little animals only want a home and some love. Instead she clones? Lady, life is life. We live, we die. So do dogs, horses, cats. How sad that she can't move forward.
julie, atlanta, usa