Three claimed-to-be clones of a family dog Missy, produced in between December 2007 and April 2008 by Hwang Woo-suk. The disgraced stem cell scientist started a dog cloning business in the United States last month in partnership with a Californian venture firm.
By Cho Jin-seo
Mass commercialization of pet dog and sniffing dog cloning is imminent, as companies armed with Korean technology are expanding their facilities.
One Korean and one American biotech company have respectively launched the dog cloning business this year. RNL Bio, a Seoul company which received its first commercial order in February for a pit bull terrier named Booger, said that it will see the birth of Booger Jr. by September.
``The project is doing much better than our initial expectations. Booger will be born no later than September,'' Ra Jeong-chan, president of RNL Bio, told The Korea Times Monday.
RNL said it received the $150,000 order from Booger's owner in California, with an advance payment of $50,000. Ra said that the demand would explode when the market price is lowered to between $20,000 and $30,000.
``We can produce about 30 cloned dogs every year, and we plan to expand the capacity to around 200 soon. We see that it will become a 100-billion-won business someday,'' he said.
Cloning of dogs and cats has received attention especially in Western culture where owners often have strong emotional bonds with their pet friends. To clone Booger, the RNL team are using cells taken from its ear tissue which they insert into ova which are then implanted into surrogate mother dogs.
RNL was thought to be a lone player in the dog cloning business. But last month, a strong competitor called BioArts International suddenly emerged from California. Both RNL and BioArts use expertise developed by Seoul National University researchers, who were led by the disgraced stem-cell fraudster Hwang Woo-suk.
The Seoul National University team led by Hwang produced the world's first cloned dog, Snuppy, back in 2005. Hwang was later fired by the university for fabricating and using incorrect data in research papers on human embryos and wolf cloning, but he and his staff continued the dog cloning research at the university and other research institutes.
BioArts, which is acting as a sales agent for Hwang's new team in Seoul, is to auction off five dog cloning slots on June 18 with a starting bid of $100,000. The firm also plans to do one more cloning for free for promotional purposes.
RNL is on its own track for commercialization of the canine copying business. In April, the firm and its partners at the Seoul National University succeeded in producing eight clones of a drug-sniffing dog Chase for the Korea Customs Service, for a price of 320 million won ($320,000). Seven of the eight siblings were qualified for the sniffer-dog job, compared to the 30-percent qualification rate of natural-born sniffer dog puppies, according to the customs service.
The company believes that the immediate profit will come from special-purpose dogs such as the case of Chase, rather than from pet dogs such as Booger. This is because most pet owners do not want more than one clone, while it is cost-efficient to produce multiple clone puppies at once, Ra says.
Along with Booger, the company is working on the cloning of a cancer-sniffing dog named Marine. Marine, priced at 10 billion won (approximately $1 million), is famous in Japan for its ability to detect tumors in the breast.
RNL's Ra says that the Marine business will also open other business opportunities in dealing with breast cancer. Once the clones of Marine detect cancer cells, surgeons will remove the tumor tissues and replace them with stem-cell fat tissues developed by RNL, he said.