British couple Richard Remde and Laura Jacques flew to South Korea and paid $100,000 to have their deceased pet cloned. Their pet boxer Dylan died in June. South Korean company Sooam Biotech Research Foundation cloned two puppies from Dylan's remains.
Richard and Laura are the first UK customers of the South Korea-based canine cloning company. Sooam has successfully cloned over 700 dogs for customers.
Canine cloning involves the implantation of the deceased pet's DNA into a "blank" canine egg, whose nucleus has been removed. The egg then receives electric shocks which activate cell division. When the egg is ready, the research team implants it into a surrogate female canine who will give birth to the cloned pet.
"I had had Dylan since he was a puppy. I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world," said Jacques.
The couple flew again to South Korea to receive the two puppies who will be born in the next several days. The "cloned" puppies' DNA are identical to Dylan's. The clones are expected to share Dylan's physical attributes and even his personality.
Jacques first heard of canine cloning in a documentary wherein Sooam launched a competition for one dog owner in the UK to have her canine clone for free. The winner Rebecca Smith had her living dachshund pet Winnie successfully cloned.
Sooam scientist David Kim said Dylan's DNA samples were retrieved 12 days after his death. Kim said it had been a long time since the laboratory had taken cells from a dead pet.
To date, there are no current regulations on pet cloning. The European parliament, however, decided in August that cloning of farm animals is illegal.
One of Sooam's leading researchers, Woo-Suk Hwang, is not new to controversies. In 2004, Hwang led a study in South Korea's Seoul University and claimed that they have successfully replicated a human embryo in a test tube.
The journal Science, where Hwang's research was originally published, retracted the study in January 2006 when a third-party scientific committee couldn't find proof of Hwang's claim.
Hwang's pet cloning also has its share of critics, one of whom is Genewatch director Helen Wallace who called for a pet cloning ban. Wallace said pet cloning practices are unregulated. She also highlighted the possibility of exploitation among pet owners who are grieving to have their pets brought back to life.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) also raised concerns on animal cloning, highlighting the practice's severe ethical and welfare issues.
"Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates. There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumors, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns," said a RSPCA spokesperson.
Photo: Alden Chadwick | Flickr