Animal rights activists say inhumane treatment outweighs scientific benefits.
WASHINGTON -- South Korean researchers Wednesday said they have created the world's first cloned dog: a playful black, tan and white Afghan hound named Snuppy.
The puppy, grown from a single cell taken from the ear of a 3-year-old male Afghan, marks a milestone in the race to fabricate genetically identical dogs for research and as companion animals.
The achievement required a staggering amount of work. Multiple surgeries on more than 100 anesthetized dogs and the painstaking creation of more than 1,000 laboratory-grown embryos led to the birth of just two cloned puppies -- one of which died after three weeks.
But the feat suggests that a market in cloned dogs, through which people grieving the loss of their favorite pets could order genetic duplicates, may not be as futuristic as some had thought. By leapfrogging a seven-year-old, multi-million dollar U.S. effort, the success has clinched South Korea's quickly growing reputation as a premier center for cloning and stem cell research.
The researchers said canine cloning will allow them to test stem-cell therapies under development for people and, perhaps, cure some dog diseases along the way.
"Wouldn't it be great if the first beneficiaries of stem cell medicine were our best friends?" asked Gerald Schatten, a reproductive scientist at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine who served as a consultant for the Korean team.
Snuppy's birth announcement, published in the Thursday issue of the journal Nature, was greeted with scorn by some animal care activists, who decried the work as inhumane and wasteful given the global glut of unwanted dogs.
"The cruelty and the body count outweighs any benefit that can be gained from this," said Mary Beth Sweetland, a vice president at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Norfolk, Va.
Others expressed concern that publication of the team's advanced techniques may help rogue scientists create the first human clone. But the researchers and others defended the achievement as an important step toward boosting the usefulness of dogs as biomedical research tools.
From dachshunds to Great Danes, dogs are extremely diverse, and many of the more than 400 breeds are predisposed to particular diseases. Scientists hope clones with propensities for specific illnesses will help them decipher the molecular underpinnings of those syndromes and develop treatments for the human diseases those dog ailments mimic.
"Dogs are really good models for biomedical research," said Mark Westhusin, a researcher at Texas A & amp;M University who a few years ago abandoned a costly effort to be the first to clone a canine.
Scientists have cloned mice, cows, sheep, goats, rabbits, cats and a few other mammals since Dolly the sheep -- the first cloned mammal -- was born in 1996.