People cope with the loss of their pets in very different ways. Some carry on as normal, some may cuddle their pet’s favorite chew toy while sobbing over Marley & Me, some immediately rush out and buy a replacement; there’s no right or wrong way to deal with it. But it turns out that some people are willing to go to rather extreme measures to mend their broken hearts: cloning their dog.
Since 2006, a controversial biotech lab in South Korea called Sooam has been offering cloning services for the meagre sum of $100,000 (£64,000); I guess some would say their companions are priceless. The company was founded by trained veterinarian and scientific researcher Woo Suk Hwang who has a rather shady history.
Hwang was publicly disgraced and expelled from his academic institution for fabricating research on human embryo cloning and still faces criminal charges. But this hasn’t seemed to put people off as business is booming; since it was established, more than 400 dogs have been cloned, and the firm usually has around 15 clients per month. The company has also brought its services to the US and plans to offer cloning to UK clients soon.
The cloning technique Sooam scientists use is the same 50 year old method that brought us Dolly the sheep back in 1996—nuclear transfer. First, cells are taken from the pet to be cloned and the nucleus, the cellular command center that contains the organism’s genetic information, is removed and saved. Next, an egg cell from a donor pet is obtained and the nucleus is replaced with that of the pet to be cloned. The egg cell is then given a small electric shock to stimulate division, and after a few days the developing embryo is placed back inside a surrogate mother. The surrogate doesn’t have to be of the same breed, but ideally they would be of similar size.
Of course, clients don’t get their old dog back, but more of an identical twin. Some dogs may also appear slightly different; dalmations, for example, may have different spots. The clones may also not have the same personality or temperament as the original dog. And the procedure is not without risks; many dogs are born unhealthy, so they have to repeat the process until a healthy dog is produced, although Sooam claims it never puts a dog down.
An ambitious company, Sooam has no intention of stopping at dogs and is dreaming big. Recently, they signed a deal with Russian scientists to attempt to clone a woolly mammoth, despite the ethical issues surrounding this.