US company BioArts International has teamed up with disgraced South Korean scientist Hwang Woo-Suk to offer dog cloning services to the public. Five dog owners will be given the opportunity to have their pet cloned in a worldwide auction on 18 June this year, where bidding will start at $100,000.
BioArts chief executive, Lou Hawthorne, had previously attempted to commercially exploit cloning technology by offering customers the chance to clone their pet cats for $50,000, through a company named Genetic Savings. The project failed and Genetic Savings ceased operations in 2006, but Hawthorne says the technology for the dog cloning project - named 'Best Friends Again' - has since improved. BioArts claims it is the only company with the legal rights to clone dogs, using a technique pioneered by researchers at the Roslin Institute in the UK, used to create Dolly the sheep. To do this, it has enlisted the help of the SooAm Biotech Research Foundation, headed by Hwang.
The decision is controversial, however, as Hwang is currently on trial in South Korea for fraud and embezzlement, after his claim to have created the world's first cloned human embryonic stem cell line was revealed to be fraudulent. It is also alleged that he used eggs obtained from a junior researcher working on his team, breaching international ethical codes of practice. 'I know the association with Dr. Hwang is going to be controversial,' said Hawthorne, adding 'one of the contradictions of Dr Hwang is that he made mistakes on his human stem-cell research, and he's the first to admit that.'
Of the discredited research carried out by Hwang at Seoul National University (SNU) only the creation of a cloned dog named Snuppy, a male Afghan hound, was found to be genuine. Since then Hwang has successfully cloned three female Afghan hounds, and the cloning of grey wolves by his team at the SNU has also been upheld as genuine. 'Our main concern is simply he's the best when it comes to dog cloning,' said Hawthorne, 'and for that reason it behooves us to work with him'.
Although the dogs will be genetically identical, the cloned animals will not behave in the same way as their twin, and bioethicist Arthur Caplan, of the University of Pennsylvania, said owners should not expect to get their old dog back. 'People believe they're going to get their pet back through cloning, but the new cloned dog won't know the old pet's tricks', he said. 'It's a false promise to say you can get your pet back', he warned.
It is likely that the successful bidders will be refunded if the cloning process is unsuccessful or if the cloned animal does not meet their expectations. BioArts has said it will not spend the money unless the dog has been 'signed off'. All the dogs will be examined by a veterinarian prior to delivery and come with one year's health warranty.