Retrieve a retriever at Korean dog clone firm
SEOUL Feb 14 (Reuters Life!) - A South Korean biotech company is offering dog owners the chance to clone their pet through a service that can cost up to $148,000 for a puppy.
RNL Bio, affiliated with the South Korean lab that produced the world's first cloned canine, expects to deliver its first cloned dog in about a year to a U.S. woman in her 50s who saved biological material from her beloved pit bull that recently died.
"These days, dogs are treated like family members. There are many owners who would rather clone a favorite pet than adopt a new one after it dies," said RNL Bio President Ra Jeong-chan.
RNL Bio is affiliated with the team at Seoul National University (SNU) that produced the world's first cloned dog, which has been verified through independent testing.
The same SNU lab has been implicated in a scandal for deliberately fabricating data in separate studies on human embryonic stem cells.
RNL expects it can clone about 30 pet dogs a year at present and increase that number to about 200 by 2010, with costs going down as the cloning technology increases in efficiency, Ra said.
Lee Byeong-chun, the Seoul National University professor who has led previous canine cloning projects, said of the partnership: "Within one or two years, we will see costs drop to a reasonable level."
Dogs are considered one of the most difficult mammals to clone because of their unpredictable reproductive cycle as well as difficulties in inducing ovulation and fertilizing eggs in the lab.
RNL and the university lab have also teamed up to clone drug-sniffing dogs, seeing-eye dogs and other types of dogs used by governments and charities at a much cheaper rate than for pet owners, they said.
The Korea Customs Service said it has signed a memorandum of understanding with the team for cloning drug-sniffing dogs.
The SNU lab was once led by disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who is now standing trial on charges of fraud, embezzlement and violating the country's bioethics laws.
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; editing by Sophie Hardach)
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