- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005


Scientists for the first time have cloned a dog. But don’t count on a better world populated by identical and resourceful Lassies just yet.

That’s because the dog duplicated by South Korea’s cloning pioneer, Hwang Woo-suk, is an Afghan hound, a resplendent supermodel in a world of mutts, but ranked by dog trainers as the least companionable and most indifferent among the hundreds of canine breeds.

The experiment extends a string of laboratory successes by Mr. Hwang, but also reignites a fierce ethical and scientific debate about the rapidly advancing technology.

Last year, Mr. Hwang’s team created the world’s first cloned human embryos. In May, it created the first embryonic stem cells that genetically match injured or sick patients.

Researchers nicknamed their cloned pal Snuppy, which is shorthand for “Seoul National University puppy.” One of the dog’s co-creators, Gerald Schatten of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, describes their creation, now 14 weeks old, as “a frisky, healthy, normal, rambunctious puppy.”

Researchers congratulated the Korean team on improving techniques that might someday be medically useful. But others renewed their demand for a worldwide ban on human reproductive cloning.

“The ability to use the underlying technology in developing research models and eventually therapies is incredibly promising,” said Robert Schenken, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “However, the paper also points out that in dogs as in most species, cloning for reproductive purposes is unsafe.”

On scientific terms, the experiment’s success was mixed. More than 1,000 cloned embryos were implanted into surrogate mothers and just three pregnancies resulted. That’s a cloning efficiency rate lower than experiments with cloned cats and horses. Details appear in today’s issue of the journal Nature.

Snuppy was created using a method called somatic cell nuclear transfer, or SCNT.

Scientists transfer genetic material from the nucleus of a donor adult cell to an egg whose nucleus — with its genetic material — has been removed. The reconstructed egg holding the DNA from the donor cell is treated with chemicals or electric current to stimulate cell division.

Once the cloned embryo reaches a suitable stage, it is transferred to the uterus of a surrogate where it continues to develop until birth.

Of the three pregnancies that resulted in this case, there was one miscarried fetus and one puppy that died of pneumonia 22 days after birth.

That left Snuppy as the sole survivor. He was delivered by Caesarean section from his surrogate mother, a yellow Labrador retriever.

Mr. Schatten said the Afghan hound’s genetic profile is relatively pure and easy to distinguish compared with dogs with more muddled backgrounds. But dog experts said the researchers’ choice of breed was disquieting.

“The Afghan hound is not a particularly intelligent dog, but it is beautiful,” said psychologist Stanley Coren, author of the best-selling manual “The Intelligence of Dogs.” He ranked the Afghan hound last among 119 breeds in temperament and trainability.

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