S.Korean bio firm says dog cloning to be cheaper

SEOUL Thu Jan 29, 2009 9:36pm GMT

1 of 3. A researcher holds two cloned beagle puppies named as 'Magic' and 'Stem' at a lab of a South Korean biotech firm, RNL Bio, in Seoul January 29, 2009. RNL Bio said on Thursday it has developed a new method to clone dogs using stem cells derived from fat tissue that greatly increases the likelihood of success. The two cloned beagle puppies were born on January 27. Picture taken January 28.

Credit: Reuters/RNL Bio/Handout

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SEOUL (Reuters) - Cloning a Chow Chow is expected to be easier and perhaps as much as 50 percent less costly, a South Korean biotech firm said on Thursday as it unveiled a new cloning technology.

But pet owners -- who have to shell out $100,000 or more to clone a pet dog -- will still have to pay tens of thousands of dollars if they want to clone their beloved dogs and should be prepared for long waits because most commercial canine cloning is for working animals including sniffer dogs at airports.

RNL Bio said it has developed a new method to clone dogs using stem cells derived from fat tissue that greatly increases the likelihood of success.

It added the new technology can also help in studying treatments of genetic disorders in canines that have similarities to human illnesses including diabetes.

"If we fully develop this technology, dog cloning will be much easier than now. We can reduce the cost for cloning," said Ra Jeongchan, the chief executive of Seoul-based RNL Bio.

Ra, which is applying for a patent, said two cloned beagle puppies were born in the past week using this method which could reduce the cost of cloning a pet dog to about $50,000 within three years.

Canines are considered one of the more difficult mammals to clone because of their reproductive cycle that includes difficult-to-predict ovulations.

Scores of dogs have been cloned using so-called somatic cell nuclear transfer, a technique for hollowing out the nucleus of a donor egg and injecting it with the donor's genetic material, which is typically skin tissue taken from the ear.

Ra said stem cells from fat tissue are far easier to reprogram and there is about a 20 percent chance a manipulated cell will result in a clone, an improvement over the previous method where the success rate was in the single digits.

South Korea's Customs Service said it paid about 60 million won ($43,840) to clone sniffer dogs with RNL, which is affiliated with Seoul National University (SNU) and cloned the dogs at a reduced cost for the government.

The SNU lab was once led by disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who is now standing trial on charges of fraud and embezzlement. Hwang now has his own lab called Sooam Biotech Research Foundation that also clones dogs commercially.

(Additional reporting by Shin Ae-lin; Editing by Sugita Katyal)