January 29, 2009

South Korean Firm Offers Cheaper Dog Cloning

A South Korean biotech firm said on Thursday it has developed a new cloning technology that is expected to make cloning pet dogs easier and significantly cheaper.

RNL Bio introduced the new method to clone dogs using stem cells derived from fat tissue that greatly increases the likelihood of a successful clone.

Pet owners have been paying upwards of $100,000 to clone a pet dog, but RNL Bio says the newly efficient technique could drop costs as much as 50 percent.

However, those interested in cloning a pet should be prepared for long waits because most commercial canine cloning is for working animals including sniffer dogs at airports.

The new method could also help in developing treatments of genetic disorders in canines that have illnesses similar to those found in humans such as diabetes.

Ra Jeongchan, the chief executive of Seoul-based RNL Bio, said once the technology is fully developed dog cloning would be much easier than it currently is and clients will benefit from reduced costs.

"Two cloned beagle puppies were born in the past week using this method, which could reduce the cost of cloning a pet dog to about $50,000 within three years," Ra told Reuters.

The company revealed photos of the puppies but said it did not show them in public for fear that the surrogate mother dogs would get excited and harm them.

He is currently applying for a patent on the new technique.

Cloning experts have found canines to be one of the more difficult mammals to clone due to their reproductive cycles that include difficult-to-predict ovulations.

In the past, cloned dogs were created using so-called somatic cell nuclear transfer, a technique for hollowing out the nucleus of a donor egg and injecting it with the donor's genetic material, which is typically skin tissue taken from the ear.

"Stem cells from fat tissue are far easier to reprogram and there is about a 20 percent chance a manipulated cell will result in a clone," Ra said.

He called this an improvement over the previous method where the success rate was in the single digits.

RNL was recently paid about 60 million won ($43,840) by South Korea's Customs Service to clone sniffer dogs.

The cloned dogs were offered at a reduced cost for the government.

Disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who is now standing trial on charges of fraud and embezzlement, was the former head of the SNU lab.

Hwang now runs his own lab called Sooam Biotech Research Foundation that also clones dogs commercially.

Last year, RNL Bio arranged the cloning of a pitbull terrier for an American woman in what it claimed was the world's first commercial cloning.

The scientists used the dead dog's refrigerated ear tissue to create the clones.


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