British Couple Cloned Their Dead Dog For $100,000

Laura Jacques and Richard Remde are first British customers of Sooam Biotech Research Foundation

A British couple has flown to South Korea to await the arrival of two puppies due to be born over Christmas after having their dead pet cloned.

Laura Jacques and her partner, Richard Remde, from Yorkshire, are the first UK customers to employ the services of the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which offers a dog cloning service for $100,000 (£67,000) per canine.

The couple’s boxer dog, Dylan, died in June, leaving Jacques bereft. “I had had Dylan since he was a puppy,” she said. “I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world.”

Sooam, the leading laboratory in the world for dog cloning, has produced more than 700 dogs for commercial customers. The technique involves implanting DNA into a “blank” dog egg that has had the nucleus removed. The egg is given electric shocks to trigger cell division and is then implanted into a surrogate female dog.

The two puppies due to be born in the next few days will have identical DNA to Dylan, are likely to resemble him physically and share some of his personality.

Jacques heard about dog cloning from a documentary about a competition Sooam ran for one UK dog owner to have their dog cloned free of charge. Rebecca Smith was the winner and her dachshund, Winnie, who is still alive, was successfully cloned.

 Richard Remde, Laura Jacques and dogs. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

Richard Remde, Laura Jacques and dogs. Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

David Kim, a scientist at Sooam, said the birth of the two cloned dogs was exciting for the laboratory because samples were taken from Dylan 12 days after he died. “This is the first case we have had where cells have been taken from a dead dog after a very long time,” he said. “Hopefully it will allow us to extend the time after death that we can take cells for cloning.”

There are currently no regulations on the cloning of pets, though the cloning of human beings is illegal, and in August the European parliament voted to outlaw the cloning of farm animals.

Woo-Suk Hwang, one of the leading researchers at the Sooam laboratory, is a controversial figure. In 2004 he led a research group at Seoul University, in South Korea, which claimed to have created a cloned human embryo in a test tube. An independent scientific committee found no evidence of this and in January 2006 the journal Science, which had originally published the research, retracted it.

His work with animals also has its detractors. Helen Wallace, director of Genewatch, has called for a ban on pet cloning and said it was disturbing that the practice is unregulated. “Cloning for mammals is not normally successful. One of our concerns is that commercial cloning companies can exploit grieving pet owners,” she said. “We think that cloning for pets should be banned. There is no justification for it.”

The RSPCA is also critical of dog cloning. A spokesperson said: “There are serious ethical and welfare concerns relating to the application of cloning technology to animals. 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 tumours, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns.”

Kim said: “We follow animal ethics for the laboratory. We have a third-party inspector that comes from the government and a board of advisers. There are set regulations that they check for. We do not use the surrogate mother dogs who carry the cloned puppies more than once.”

Jacques, a dog walker, and Remde, who manages Heritage Masonry & Conservation, lost Dylan in June after the pet was diagnosed with a brain tumour. The couple obtained the DNA samples themselves, and Remde flew them to South Korea twice – the DNA samples didn’t grow the first time round.

When the cloned pregnancies were confirmed, the couple were overjoyed. “I couldn’t believe it,” said Jacques. “We were shocked and ecstatic, my legs turned to jelly. They said that the first puppy was due on Boxing Day and the second one a day later.”

The couple have flown out to South Korea to await the births. “It will be like five Christmases coming all at once,” said Remde.

Who is Hwang?

South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk holds Snuppy, the first successfully cloned dog. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP

South Korean stem cell researcher Hwang Woo-suk holds Snuppy, the first successfully cloned dog. Photograph: Ahn Young-joon/AP

Woo-Suk Hwang, the puppy-cloner of Seoul, achieved instant fame when he and colleagues published a claim that they had created human embryo stem cells from cloned human embryos. An embryo stem-cell can in theory become anything you want it to: a new personalised heart, a genetically identical liver, new kidneys, your own replacement nervous system. So it would be terrific to have it in the clinician’s toolbox.

The trick was to work out how to derive them, and then how to use them. Nobody yet has got very far. Hwang claimed he had got an embryo stem cell once in every 12 tries. People at the time were astounded at the success ratio because Dolly the sheep, cloned from the cells of an adult sheep in 1996, was the only successful outcome of 277 donor eggs, 29 embryos and 13 surrogate mothers.

His fellow scientists took a closer look at the results and found, eventually, that Hwang had used more than 2,200 donated eggs and delivered nothing but false claims. Within a year, his entire career was under examination and in 2009 he was given a two-year suspended sentence after a conviction for embezzlement and violation of bioethics.

But the scientists, ethics committees and science chiefs who investigated all his claims had to concede one thing: when Hwang claimed in 2005 that he had successfully cloned the first dog, a puppy called Snuppy, he had not been wrong. Yes, he had cloned a dog. They can’t take that away from him.

But a cloned pet – achieved usually at great expense and difficulty – could never be the same as the lost pet. To make the new version, scientists took the nuclear DNA from a sample cell and put it into a donor egg from which the mother’s own nuclear DNA has been removed. Then, Victor Frankenstein-fashion, a pulse of electricity reset the cellular clock and kicked off new life in old material.

The DNA in the chromosomes of every cell may be identical, but the dead animal and the clone had different egg donors. They would have gestated in different wombs. And, because they were born at different times, they are unlikely to have identical rearing experiences, which also define character. So the product puppy, however loveable, and however like in appearance, will be a different animal. There are some things in life you can’t have twice.


Authors: Tim Radford

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