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Tag: snuppy

Second thoughts about dog cloning

SONY DSCOne of the men behind the push to clone dogs — and market the service to bereaved pet owners — seems more convinced than ever that doing so was, if not a mistake, at least a quest that led to some bad places.

Lou Hawthorne, who established a cell bank (Genetic Savings & Clone) and pushed researchers at Texas A&M University to try and clone the world’s first dog in the late 1990s — in hopes of turning dog cloning into a profitable business — said in an interview last week that cloning has led to thousands of dogs suffering each year.

“A cloned dog contributes to the happiness of a family but I do not think it is possible to do it without a huge amount of suffering to hundreds of others,” Hawthorne told The Mirror, which was reporting on the first dog cloning for a customer in the UK.

Hawthorne has been out of the dog cloning business since shutting down BioArts, the successor to Genetic Savings & Clone, which closed not long after efforts to clone a dog at Texas A&M were dropped.

That research was funded by John Sperling, the wealthy founder of the University of Phoenix and the boyfriend of Hawthorne’s mother. Millions of dollars were poured into the attempt to clone Joan Hawthorne’s dog, Missy, a husky-border collie mix.

SONY DSCWhen Texas A&M dropped the project, scientists as Seoul National University in South Korea began their own effort to clone the world’s first dog.

They picked up where American scientists left off, and dog cloning was achieved within two years with the 2005 birth of Snuppy, an Afghan hound manufactured from cells taken from a veterinary student’s dog.

Hawthorne, under the auspices of Bio Arts, later teamed up with Hwang Woo Suk, one of the lead scientists on the Snuppy project who opened his own lab after being fired from the university.

First, he had Hwang clone Missy, resulting in a dog named Mira, but when the clone was delivered to Joan Hawthorne she didn’t want her. She told a New York Times reporter at the time the puppy was too rambunctious.

SONY DSCThen Hawthorne and Hwang teamed up to produce and sell more clones. They held a “Golden Clone Giveaway,” in which a free cloning was offered to the winner of an essay contest, and an online auction where five winning bidders, offering upwards of $150,000, had their dogs cloned.

A second South Korean company RNL Bio, with help from another of Snuppy’s creators at SNU, was also cloning dogs — and it produced the first one sold to a customer not connected to the industry, a pit bull named Booger, five copies of which were cloned from the dead dog and, eventually, brought home by the California woman who owned him.

RNL pulled out of cloning pet dogs in 2011, not long after the publication of my book, “DOG, INC: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

Hawthorne had already stepped away from the business by then. In September of 2009, Hawthorne pulled out of the partnership with Hwang, citing, among other reasons, his concerns that accepted animal welfare protocols – or at least those accepted by most Western countries — weren’t being followed by the South Koreans.

He also, at the time, blamed court fights over patent rights, the high cost of cloning, deformities and abnormalities that occurred in the cloning process, and what he called the ”distraction factor” — annoying questions from the media and bloggers about the wisdom and ethics of cloning dogs.

doginccover (5)(As a newspaper reporter who wrote one of the earliest articles on commercial dog cloning, then a blogger, and then the author of “Dog, Inc.,” an expose of the dog cloning industry, I’m pretty sure that latter group included me.)

In his interview wih the Mirror, Hawthorne referred to the vast numbers of dogs that it took — up to 80, he said – to clone just one.

And, he said, random dogs used for cloning by Korean researchers were returned to the dog farms they were borrowed from — farms where dogs are raised for their meat.

“That is why I got out,”  Hawthorne said. “I couldn’t care less if the cloning business world collapses but I care about suffering.”

Sooam told me, in 2009, that dogs used in the process were returned to the farms. In more recent years, however, Sooam has insisted that both the dogs from whom egg cells are harvested, and those who serve as surrogate mothers, are sent to adoptive homes when their use in the laboratory is completed.

Hawthorne’s remarks came after the birth of Mini Winnie, a dachshund cloned by Hwang’s lab for a London resident who won a contest sponsored by Sooam. As Sooam attempts to spread the word about its unusual service, Hawthorne has taken to speaking out against it.

SONY DSC“Dog cloning is unviable,” Hawthorne said. “It cannot be achieved at a price people can afford.”

Hawthorne now cares for two clones of Missy — Mira and Missy Too.

The Mirror reports Hawthorne has more recently been working on cures for human cancer and Alzheimer’s, and the newspaper quoted him as saying human cloning would be safer and more viable than dog cloning.

“Unlike the dog industry, no human would die.”

(Photos: Lou Hawthorne with Mira; Snuppy at Seoul National University, James Symington, winner of the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” with five clones of his former police dog, TrakR, in Los Angeles; Mira at the dog park; by John Woestendiek)

UK’s first canine clone is born in Seoul

miniwinnie

With more than 500 canine clones now roaming the world, you wouldn’t think the fact that one has been produced for a pet owner in the UK would make such a big splash.

But it has, and a big splash is just what the cloners had in mind.

To introduce its unique service to Britain, Sooam Biotech, the South Korean laboratory that’s now the only company cloning dogs, borrowed from an earlier chapter in dog cloning’s bizarre history. It held a public contest, awarding a free cloning as the grand prize.

The winner: Rebecca Smith, 29, of London, who learned in late March that a clone of her 12-year-old dachshund Winnie had been born in a Seoul laboratory, BBC reported.

She named the dog Mini Winnie.

The competition saw dog owners submit videos of their dogs and compete for the chance to “immortalize” their pet for free. The bill for dog cloning normally runs around $100,000.

“Sooam Biotech is looking for one person with the most special and inspiring reason for cloning his/her beloved dog,” the company said in announcing the contest.

The contest was similar to one held in the U.S. when dog cloning first hit the market. It was called the “Golden Clone Giveaway,” and the winner was TrakR, a search and rescue dog whose owner said the German shepherd found the last survivor in the rubble of 9/11.

The weird and wacky story of how dog cloning was achieved, how it was marketed, and the first customers to sign up for it can be found in my book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

The UK’s first canine clone — who won’t arrive in the country until after a 6-month quarantine period — was cloned at Sooam Biotech, a laboratory run by Hwang Woo Suk, who was a member of the Seoul National University team that produced the world’s first canine clone, Snuppy, in 2005.

That research began after an earlier effort to clone a dog in the U.S., at Texas A&M University, was unsuccessful.

The Texas A&M research was funded by John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix. After cloning a cat, and assorted farm animals, the Texas A&M efforts to clone a dog were called off, but Sperling’s front man, who had established a company to store the cells of dead and dying dogs (Genetic Savings & Clone), even before dog cloning was achieved, later teamed up Hwang and Sooam to offer an online auction, with the highest bidders receiving clones of their dogs.

SONY DSCHwang founded his lab after getting fired from Seoul National University when his claim to have produced the world’s first cloned human embryos was deemed fraudulent. He was later convicted of embezzling research funds and illegally buying human eggs, but his 18-month sentence was suspended.

Hwang has more recently has embarked on trying to clone a woolly mammoth from 10,00-year-old remains found frozen in Siberia.

Meanwhile, he’s churning out laboratory-created dogs, more than 500 of which have been born to surrogate mother dogs at his lab and kennel.

To create Mini Winnie, a piece of skin was taken from Winnie and transported to Seoul. Cells from the sample were placed inside an anonymous donor dog’s egg cell and, with a jolt of electricity, they merged.

Then the embryo was implanted inside a surrogate dog that gave birth, via Caesarean, to Winnie on March 30.

“The world would be a better place with more Winnies in it,” Smith, 29, says in a Channel 4 documentary, “The £60,000 Puppy: Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

smithandwinnieSmith received the original Winnie as a present on her 18th birthday, and she says the dog helped her overcome “lots of demons,” including an eating disorder. Smith says Mini Winnie looks identical to the original, who is old and arthritic, but still alive.

Hundreds of pet owners have had dogs cloned since the first customer, a California woman who received five copies of her dead pit bull, Booger.

Critics of the process say cloning doesn’t result in the resurrection of an animal, but a laboratory-made twin, whose creation requires the involvement of numerous other dogs, and who might not act like the original at all.

Initially, two South Korean companies were cloning dogs for pet owners (and even more for research purposes), but one of the, RNL Bio, has pulled out of the dog-cloning business.

While the cloning process has grown more efficient, some animal welfare groups say risks are still high.

Dr Katy Taylor, Head of Science at The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection, said: “Cloning is a very unpredictable and extremely wasteful process … In order to produce just one ‘perfect’ clone, many puppies with the same genes as a loved animal will be born … Some of these puppies will be aborted or will die soon after birth from unpredictable health complications and severe birth defects.”

Defective pups, and the South Korean laboratory’s failure to follow animal welfare protocols, were among the reasons cited by the American company that teamed up with Hwang for pulling out of its dog cloning arrangement.

The documentary, while it mostly follows the judges as they visit with contestants and their dogs, does go some interesting places, including Edinburg, for an interview with Sir Ian Wilmut, cloner of Dolly the sheep. Wilmut doesn’t endorse pet cloning, and says he remains skeptical of it, saying it will lead to lots of disappointed customers who, despite their hopes, won’t get an animal with the same personality as the original.

There’s also an interview with a pet owner, not a contestant, who views dog cloning as a Hitleresque pursuit, and there are several allusions to the fact that some Koreans eat dog meat.

“The £60,000 Puppy: Cloning Man’s Best Friend” was made by the same independent production company that produced “I Cloned My Pet,” several episodes of which appeared on TLC.

“The £60,000 Puppy” is an improvement over those productions, which brushed aside most ethical questions and animal welfare concerns about pet cloning. While the new documentary doesn’t delve too deeply into them either, it does present something more than a one-sided view.

Like the earlier documentaries, it reinforces that most customers of dog cloning are, shall we say, eccentric sorts, and that their attachment to their dogs — as with all of us — is a powerful one.

Perhaps the most telling moment, though, comes as the judges debate — American Idol style — the public relations benefits of each contestant.

After that, the winner is … after a long, long pause … announced.

Cloning, it seems, is no longer some futuristic pipedream. It has become a reality, and apparently an entertainment form.

My view? Cloning is no game show, or at least it shouldn’t be.

(Photos: Top, Mini Winnie / Channel 4; middle, Hwang in his lab / John Woestendiek; bottom; Smith and the original Winnie / Channel 4)

My dog Ace at “My Dog Tulip”

Ace and I will be appearing at the Aperture Cinema in Winston-Salem this week for a group discussion following the showing of the animated movie, “My Dog Tulip,” based on J.R. Ackerley’s memoir of his relationship with his dog.

I’ll also be talking about, selling and signing my new book, “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend.”

If you’re wondering what the human-dog bond, or a memoir about that, have in common with cloning, the answer is:

Everything.

For, in addition to the profits foreseen by entrepreneurs, it was that bond – tighter-than-ever as the 21st Century arrived–  that sparked the attempt to clone dogs, prompted customers to sign up for it and led to the emergence of a fledgling, and highly questionable, pet cloning industry.

And what, after all, is a dog clone but a living, breathing, laboratory re-creation of the past — a memoir you can pet?

The first dog whose cloning was attempted by U.S. scientists, in fact, was a border collie mix who belonged to — you guessed it — a memoir writer. Missy, as it turned out, wasn’t the first dog cloned. South Korean scientists accomplished that first with an Afghan hound, whose clone would be named Snuppy. But Missy was eventually cloned — more than five times.

Cloning wasn’t available in J.R. Ackerley’s day (the British writer died in 1967), but given the love he expressed for his German shepherd, given his many unsuccesful attempts to breed her to another purebred “Alsatian,” given the void she filled in his life and the one her passing left in it, he might have considered it, if it had been.

“Tulip,” whose real name was Queenie — publishers opted to change it, fearing its gay connotations might be too titillating for stuffy old 1950′s England – spent 14 years with Ackerley, and according to some accounts he never quite got over her death. 

“She offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion, which it is in the nature of dogs to offer,” he says in the book, written while she was still alive.

The movie — though, like the book, it doesn’t shy away from dogs’ bodily functions — is charming and charmingly animated, drawn and directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, and narrated by Christopher Plummer, in the role of Ackerley. It also features the voices of Isabella Rossellini and Lynn Redgrave.

It tells the story of a man who, having all but given up on finding an “ideal friend” in the human world, finds one in a canine — the first dog he’s had in his life.

I’ll be leaving my ideal friend home tonight, but Ace, if he feels up to it, is scheduled to join me at the theater Wednesday night.

The movie starts at 8 p.m., both nights, with the discussion following. The Aperture Cinema is at 311 W. 4th St. in downtown Winston-Salem.

Just in time for Christmas … well, almost

I’ve written my name in books before — but always as a reminder to other people to keep their grubby paws off of them, or at least return them when they’re done.

But yesterday was a first: I signed my own book — own, as in the one I wrote.

I don’t get mail delivery here in Petite Acres, the trailer park in Cave Creek, Arizona, where Ace and I are spending December before heading back east in the last leg of our seven months of travels.

So when my publisher called to find out where to send the author’s copies of “DOG, INC.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend,” I used my brother’s address, and he delivered them over the weekend.

I won’t compare the excitement of tearing open that cardboard box to seeing your baby arrive — that would be wrong — but there are some similarities, the main ones being, “Wow, that came out of me?” and the realization that all the labor pains were worth it after all.

The book is about the cloning of dogs — how, and why, it came to be achieved, and the colorful characters involved: from the Arizona billionaire who funded the initial research; to the scientists who produced Snuppy, the first canine clone, in South Korea; to those who marketed the service (even before the first dog was cloned); to those who bought it, the bereaved pet owners seeking replicas of dogs dead or near death.

It was two years in the making (the book, not dog cloning) — a project I undertook right after I left the Baltimore Sun, and one that wouldn’t have been accomplished were it not for the help of a lot of people.

My first autographed copy is being sent to one of them, Rona Kim, a law student in Seoul who served as my guide and interpreter during my visit to Korea, and without whom I would have probably spent three-fourths of my time there hopelessly lost.

The official release date of “DOG, INC.” is Dec. 30, but it can be pre-ordered now from all the major retailers.

By then, Ace and I will be headed back east — first to Washington for a scheduled appearance on the Diane Rehm show Jan. 5 (me, not Ace), then to Baltimore, where we hope to host a couple of book signing parties (details to come) and find a place to call home.

U.S. company pulls out of dog cloning fight

DSC04574
 
The only U.S. biotech company involved in cloning dogs commercially is pulling out of the business, according to the Korea Times.

Lou Hawthorne, the chief executive of  California-based BioArts, said the company will discontinue cloning dogs for customers in light of failed legal efforts to prevent a South Korean rival company from offering cloning services.

In an e-mailed statement to the newspaper, Hawthorne condemned the Korean company, RNL Bio in Seoul, as “black-market cloners,” and also claimed that the occasional physical anomalies of its cloned puppies proved that cloning is a technology “not ready for prime time.”

BioArts has completed the delivery of  cloned dogs to five clients — all bidders in an online auction held this summer, the company said.

The withdrawl of BioArts from dog cloning leaves RNL Bio as the world’s only company involved in the commercial cloning of dogs.

RNL recently announced plans to open a canine cloning center in Korea next year, where it plans to produce 1,000 cloned dogs per year by 2013.

stills-clones3-lgBioArts had insisted it held the sole rights to clone dogs, cats and other mammals under licenses from Start Licensing, which acquired the rights to the technology developed to clone Dolly the sheep from the Roslin Institute.

Start Licensing filed a lawsuit against RNL Bio for patent infringement last October, but Hawthorne said Start Licensing’s legal response was “too little, too late.”

“It became apparent that Start was unwilling either to commit to defend their cloning patents against infringers or grant to BioArts the right to do so on their behalf,” Hawthorne said.

“Start was afraid to defend their patents against challengers in the dog cloning space because if they lost, they might also lose the ability to control markets they actually cared about — mainly agricultural cloning. Start’s strong preference was to do nothing to defend the dog cloning market against patent infringers.”

In closing its cloning business, BioArts also ended its partnership with Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, which is led by scientist Hwang Woo-suk, who was fired from Seoul National University shortly after the announcement that it had cloned the world’s first dog, Snuppy.

While Snuppy was verified to be a clone, Hwang’s studies on cloned human stem cells were exposed as fraudulent, leading to criminal charges.

(Photos: Top, James Symington receiving five clones of his dead search and rescue dog Trakr. Symington, who won BioArts “Golden Clone Giveaway” contest, says Trakr found the last survivor at 9-11; by John Woestendiek. Left, Lou Hawthorne with three clones of his mother’s dog, Missy; courtesy of BioArts)

Snuppy’s puppies being offered as pets

DSC02429Offspring of Snuppy — the world’s first cloned dog — are being offered to the public by Seoul National University, where Snuppy was created in 2005.

The Korea Times reports that applications are being accepted, and the nine puppies will be given to good homes at no charge.

The puppies aren’t clones themselves, but are the offspring of Snuppy and two female Afghans that were cloned at SNU to serve as his girlfriends, and for research purposes — namely to determine whether two cloned dogs can produce pups the natural way, or at least through artificial insemination.

Snuppy became a father in May last year after impregnating the two female clones, named Bona and Hope. It was the world’s first successful breeding involving only cloned canines. One of the 10 puppies died after birth, but the remaining nine — six males and three females — remain healthy.

Lee Byeong-chun, one of the leaders of the team that created Snuppy, said the school will take online applications until Oct. 31 and offer the puppies to  pet owners for free after a screening process. Each dog will be spayed or neutered.

“We will look through the applications and give the dogs to owners who we believe are most capable of raising them,” Lee said.

Lee’s team used artificial insemination to impregnate the two cloned Afghan hound females with Snuppy’s sperm last year.

Lee collaborated with now-disgraced gene scientist Hwang Woo-suk in the creation of Snuppy in 2005. Hwang was fired from SNU in the following year after his work on cloned human stem cells was exposed as fraudulent.

Since then, both men have continued to clone dogs — Lee at SNU and Hwang at a private facility he opened outside Seoul in 2007.

Lee had also announced plans to mate the world’s first cloned wolf, born in 2006, with other cloned wolves. Those plans took a blow earlier this week when the world’s first cloned wolf, Snuwolf, was found dead in a Seoul zoo.

(Photo: By John Woestendiek)

Cloned drug-sniffing dogs on duty in Seoul

Six cloned drug-sniffing dogs have gone on duty at Seoul-Incheon International Airport in South Korea.

The dogs are among seven genetic duplicates of a single Labrador retriever named Chase, cloned at Seoul National University for use by the Korean Customs Service.

The dogs, having completed 16 months of training, will work at the airport and three other customs checkpoints to deter drug smuggling, according to the Associated Press.

They are part of a litter of seven born in 2007 through cloning a skilled drug-sniffing canine in active service. They were all named “Toppy” — a combination of the words “tomorrow” and “puppy.” One dropped out of training due to an injury.

The cloning  was conducted by a team of Seoul National University scientists who in 2005 successfully created the world’s first dog clone, an Afghan hound named Snuppy.

The customs service says using clones could help reduce costs due to the difficulties in finding dogs qualified to sniff out contraband. Only about three of every 10 naturally born dogs the service trains end up qualifying for the job.

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