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Monday, August 15, 2005

South Koreans Clone World's First Dog; Vivisectors and Stem Cell Proponents See $$$

The race to clone the world's first canine has been won by a team of scientists from Seoul National University who recently announced that they had successfully cloned an Afghan Hound.

The black, tan, and white puppy (pictured alongside his genetic dad) was born back in April and has been named Snuppy, which is an acronym for Seoul National University Puppy. He was cloned from a cell taken from the ear of his three year old genetic father. The embryo was then transplanted into the womb of a Golden Labrador Retriever where it was carried for the normal gestation period of sixty days before being delivered by cesarean section. Although cloned animals are often born with severe birth defects and seldom live for very long, Snuppy so far appears to be completely healthy.

This breakthrough -- if it can be called that? -- was quite a coup for the South Koreans in that Lou Hawthorne's Genetic Savings and Clone of Sausalito, CA has been unsuccessfully attempting to clone a dog for seven years. The obstacles are formidable. For starters, female dogs, or bitches as they are often called, go into heat only twice a year and, unlike women, cannot be made to produce ripe eggs via injections of estrogen. Therefore, researchers must test the bitches on an ongoing basis for increased levels of the hormone progesterone which indicates ovulation. Once the tests confirm that a dog is in heat, she is anesthetized and the eggs are surgically removed. This process, quite obviously, requires the use and abuse of hundreds of dogs. Scientists then use a high-tech microscope called a micromanipulator to extract the DNA from the eggs and to replace it with the donor DNA. This is a tedious and grossly inefficient process which leads to the destruction of many of the eggs. Electrical shock is then used to fuse the donated skin cells to the eggs.

In Snuppy's case, fourteen-hundred embryos were created but only 1,095 of them were deemed suitable for implantation. Scientists then grouped together between five and twelve embryos and surgically implanted them in the wombs of 123 surrogate dogs. This process is made all the more tricky by the fact that the surrogate mothers must be in heat themselves in order for the process to work. It is unclear where these dogs came from and, more importantly, what happened to their eggs. Are they surgically removed or are these the same dogs who donated the eggs in the first place? Sonograms taken after implantation revealed that only three of the embryos were growing into fetuses and one of these later miscarried. Snuppy and one other puppy managed to survive until full-term but the other puppy died of pneumonia twenty-two days after birth. With only one of the 123 pregnancies producing a healthy cloned dog that equates to a success rate of only 0.09 per cent. More importantly, cloning, like transgenics, is excruciatingly painful for the animals involved. In particular, cloned fetuses are usually larger than normal ones and this makes for exceedingly painful -- and often deadly -- deliveries for both the mothers and fetuses.

Back in 1996, Dolly the sheep (named after Dolly Parton) was the first animal to be cloned, but since then cows, goats, pigs, deer, horses, baboons, mice, rabbits, mules, and cats have been genetically reproduced. Wealthy octogenarian John Sperling of the University of Phoenix Online (known for its irritating pop-up ads) lavishly funded a joint effort by Genetic Savings and Clone and Texas A&M University to clone his mixed-breed dog, Missy. When that proved not to be yet feasible the Texas team turned its attention to cats and in 2001 CC, short for Carbon Copy, was born to her surrogate mother Allie from DNA donated by her genetic mother, Rainbow. Today, she is four years old and lives with her cloner, Dr. Duane Kraemer (see picture below), who adopted her at the age of six months. She appears to be healthy but apparently she has been unable to conceive. Since then Genetic Savings and Clone has cloned several other cats and has announced plans to go into the retailing of cloned cats and, later, dogs.

With costs ranging anywhere from $50,000 for a cloned cat to a $100,000 or more for a cloned dog, it is unlikely that the cloning of companion animals will ever be big business although scientific advancements in the future could drive down prices considerably. Moreover, with ten million cats and seven million dogs being exterminated at shelters in the United States each year cloning is not merely absurd but immoral as well.

In the meantime, the Korean team's success has vivisectors in America salivating at the mouth. One group wants to employ canine versions of embryonic stem cells to test human stem cell therapies. Another group is eyeing the more than four-hundred breeds of dogs as incubators in which to study human diseases. They reason that canine clones with specific diseases will aid them in understanding the molecular structure of these ailments and that furthermore this knowledge is applicable to the treatment of similar diseases in humans. In support of their case they argue that insulin was first discovered in dogs and that open-heart surgery was initially practiced on canines. Hundreds of thousands of dogs are already butchered each year by vivisectors so that they can test out new drugs and surgical procedures but the fact that these atrocities are permitted does not mean that they are necessarily useful or that alternative testing procedures are not available. Moreover, no one with an ounce of either morality or compassion would cut up an animal in the name of science.

There cannot be any doubt, however, that biomedical research involving cloned dogs will put untold billions of dollars into the already bulging pockets of vivisectors and lead to millions of defenseless dogs being horribly carved up, tortured, and mutilated by the latter-day Doctor Moreaus of the scientific community. This is after all America: anything and everything is permissible, no matter how immoral, in the pursuit of a buck.

The American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS) of Jenkintown, PA, which has unsuccessfully lobbied the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to regulate cloning, was quick to condemn the news from Seoul. "This announcement is bad news for dogs and further demonstrates the significant animal welfare problems associated with cloning," Crystal Miller-Spiegel said in a press release.

The classic understatement of the day belongs, quite appropriately, to the English. Freda Scott-Park of the British Veterinary Association, is quoted in The Independent as saying, "Cloning of animals raises many ethical and moral issues that have still to be properly debated." Seeing as how more than a dozen different species of animals have already been genetically duplicated, cloning looks more and more like a fait accompli than a debate topic.