From Dolly the sheep to Snuppy the puppy, it is no longer the road less traveled. Since Dolly was cloned in 1996, researchers have successfully cloned pigs, cattle, mice, rabbits, horses and cats. And now, for the first time, scientists have succeeded in creating a genetic double of a dog, a feat that has hitherto eluded cloning experts across the world. This stunning breakthrough has been pulled off by South Korea’s pioneering stem-cell scientist, Hwang Woo-Suk and his team at the Seoul National University.
The cloned canine, named Snuppy, was copied through somatic cell nuclear transfer, the same method used to create Dolly. Scientists took a skin cell from the ear of a 3-year-old male Afghan hound and extracted genetic material from the nucleus. They transferred it to an unfertilized egg whose nucleus was removed. The reconstructed egg holding the DNA from the donor cell was zapped with an electric current to stimulate cell division. Once the cloned embryo reached a suitable stage, it was transferred to the uterus of a surrogate where it continued to develop until birth.
Snuppy opens up the possibility of treating illnesses shared by both canines and people, such as diabetes and dementia. Woo-Suk believes perfecting the controversial technology will eventually lead to discoveries of therapies for debilitating diseases and handicaps, and help replenish extinct animals.
While some laud the Korean team’s achievements, others believe the idea is unethical and have renewed calls for a global ban on human reproductive cloning. So far, animal cloning has been plagued with abnormalities and premature deaths of both the clones and their surrogates. Moreover, destroying hundreds of higher mammals to replicate raises questions about the ethics of cloning.
We can argue endlessly about the morality of cloning dogs or using embryonic stem cells for research, it is going to occur regardless. Hence, a global regime that lays down norms and sets ethical standards by which scientific groups and governments explore and share this powerful new knowledge must be put in place soon.