Nothing new, right?
At this point nobody is going to throw a party for the scientist who cloned another sheep (yawn). Maybe if the sheep could pantomime a Swedish waterskier while hopping around like a kangaroo at a German bar at 2:36 in the morning we would be impressed. But until then, let’s hold off on handing out Nobel Prizes.
Dreich’s original goal was not to create identical animals, but to prove that genetic material is not lost during cell division. Dreich’s experiments involved sea urchins, which he picked because they have large embryo cells, and grow independently of their mothers. Dreich took a 2 celled embryo of a sea urchin and shook it in a beaker full of sea water until the two cells separated. Each grew independently, and formed a separate, whole sea urchin.
Since then we have seen a rapid development in cloning with some animals…and not so much in others – namely dogs.
But why is that?
In its simplest form, four steps make up the cloning process. The problem is, the specific characteristics of a canine’s reproductive system make every one of those steps extraordinarily difficult.
In taking a look at the “Missyplicity Project” in which Texas billionaire John Sperling gave $3.7 million to Texas A&M scientists to fund canine-cloning research. The goal was to clone Sperling’s dog Missy, described by all involved as an “exceptional” dog.
And so began the research that would become the “Missyplicity Project.” Some of those Texas A&M scientists formed a commercial venture called Genetic Savings & Clone. Hundreds of pet owners sent in their pets’ skin biopsies for storage (for a one-time fee of about $1,000 and a yearly $100 maintenance charge), hoping their beloved pets would eventually come back to them in clone form.
The company reports they delivered two cloned cats, but it was taking too long and costing too much money to clone a dog, so it closed in 2006.
Scientists discovered while most animals ovulate on a regular schedule, dogs, on the other hand, ovulate almost at random. To make matters even more complicated, dogs don’t release a mature egg the way most mammals do. Their ovaries release an immature egg that then develops in the fallopian tubes.
Once mature, that egg is viable for a whole two or three hours. Extracting that egg from the fallopian tube at the exact right time can be a bit of a challenge.
All this, however, has not stopped South Korean researcher Insung Hwang from trying to clone dogs. According to Hwang’s website, he is “healing broken hearts”, specifically those of people who have lost a beloved dog. Now he is to offer his therapeutic services in the UK.
For the sum of $100,000, Hwang will “prolong companionship with your dog by bringing back the memories that you have with your friend”.
And just how is he doing this?
“Surrogate mothers don’t have to be the same breed,” explains Hwang. “A great dane could, in theory, be the surrogate for a chihuahua puppy. But we tend to use similar-sized breeds. Normally, only one puppy is born, but sometimes we get a litter of three to four puppies. Usually, the client will take all the puppies if this occurs.”
To clone a dog, Hwang’s team takes a small sample of tissue from the dog, while it is still living, or within five days of its death – and freezes the cells. Another dog – the breed is immaterial – is selected to supply an egg. In a process called enucleation, the team replace the DNA in the egg with that from the stored sample. This cloned embryo is then transferred into a separate surrogate dog, which will give birth to the puppy and suckle it for around a month.
South Korea has already cloned and is currently training sniffer dogs. The puppies were born to three surrogate mothers after scientists used the nuclei of somatic cells from a sniffer dog called Chase. The state-funded project cost about $300,000.
According to South Korea officials, the pups have passed the first round of tests for behavioural patterns and genetic qualities and will report for duty in June after completing a second round of training.
For Hwang, though, dogs are just the tip of the iceberg. He and his partners in the Sooam Boitech Research Foundation are also attempting to clone a wooly mammoth.