SEOUL, South Korea – A South Korean biotech company claimed Thursday to have cloned dogs using a stem cell technology for the first time in the world.
Seoul-based RNL Bio said it created two black puppies this week using stem cells from fat tissue of a female beagle, in cooperation with a team of Seoul National University scientists who created the world's first cloned canine — Snuppy — in 2005.
U.S., Japanese and New Zealand scientists have already succeeded in cloning mice, pigs and deer using stem cells, but it was first time stem cells were used to clone dogs, according to the university team.
Stem cells are prized for their ability to grow into a variety of more specialized cells. In contrast, an ordinary skin cell was used to create Snuppy, a black Afghan hound.
RNL Bio head Ra Jeong-chan told reporters that his company plans to commercialize the technology, in which it lets clients store their dogs' stem cells, using them in efforts to cure their pets' diseases or clone them after they die.
"We can see there is a new business field," Ra said.
Ra said the approach would also help scientists study how to treat human diseases such as diabetes and arthritis by putting human disease-related genes into dogs' stem cells and creating clones.
Lee Byeong-chun, head of the university research team, agreed, saying stem cells offer an advantage over ordinary cells for such genetic research.
Lee was a key aide to disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk, whose purported breakthroughs in stem cell research were revealed as false. Independent tests, however, later proved the team's dog cloning was genuine.
Lee said his team has so far cloned about 35 dogs and five wolves.
The two new cloned dogs — named Magic and Stem — have been living with their surrogate mother, a golden retriever, in a university facility since they were born Tuesday.
The dogs — which share white markings on their foreheads and bodies — are both healthy, according to RNL Bio and Lee's team.
Company and university researchers identified the dogs as clones of a cell donor through DNA tests. Ra said the university's forensic medicine team was performing a reconfirmation test.