Go Fetch a Clone

Bernann McKinney missed her dog so much she had puppies created from his DNA

August 05, 2008|By John Woestendiek | John Woestendiek,Sun reporter

Bernann McKinney couldn't wait to see her dog again.

Understanding why is easy: Booger was a pit bull she rescued from the street. Two months later, when McKinney was attacked by another dog, Booger rescued her, charging out of the house, jumping on the larger dog and diverting his attention long enough so that McKinney, who all but lost one arm in the attack and had the other damaged, could escape, steering her pickup truck with her elbows to the home of a neighbor.

After her fingers and arms were repaired - at least cosmetically - in a series of 12 surgeries, Booger became McKinney's service dog. He helped her tug off her shoes and socks. He brought her soda from the refrigerator. He got her clothes out of the dryer. And he kept her going emotionally, as well.

Given all that, why she'd want him back is obvious. How she's getting him back is slightly more complex: Booger died two years ago.

This week in Seoul, South Korea, though, McKinney's far-fetched dream is to come somewhere in the vicinity of true when she meets the puppies, all named Booger, created by the cloning of McKinney's original dog. They are the first dogs to be cloned for a private individual, and the first whose births are unaffiliated with scientific research, government requests or corporate interests.

Three years after the first dog was cloned in the name of science - an Afghan named Snuppy, created at Seoul National University - the marketing of cloned pets to the general public, once relegated to science fiction, has become a reality.

"We are ready to receive cloning orders," said Jin Han Hong, director of strategic planning for RNL BioStar, a Seoul biotech company that, working with the Seoul National University research team, agreed to clone McKinney's dog for $150,000.

RNL BioStar, which has cloned other dogs for government agencies, is one of two companies making dog cloning available to the general public.

A second company, U.S.-based BioArts International, auctioned off five dog clonings online last month, with each slot drawing bids of $140,000 or more, and it plans to carry out a free cloning for the winner of a clone-my-dog essay contest - former Nova Scotia police officer James Symington, who says his search and rescue dog, Trakr, helped find the last survivor in the rubble of the World Trade Center after Sept. 11.

Lou Hawthorne, chief executive officer of BioArts, says he hopes to produce the clone or clones of Symington's aging German shepherd by the end of the year.

BioArts is working with Hwang Woo-suk, a former Seoul National University scientist who, after helping lead the effort to create the first cloned dog in the world, was fired for falsifying data related to his experiments with cloning human embryos. He went on to establish his own biotech foundation in South Korea, and this year partnered with BioArts to produce cloned dogs commercially.

The two companies both maintain they have the sole right to clone dogs worldwide, have accused each other of infringing on cloning patents and licenses, and have threatened to take legal action against one another.

Hawthorne also disagrees with RNL's assertion that the Booger clones would be the world's first "commercially cloned" dogs. He has three clones of his mother's dog, Missy, all created by Hwang at the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, where the stem-cell scientist took his research after being fired from the university.

"The first commercial dog clone has been delivered. It's sitting right here at my feet," Hawthorne said in a telephone interview. The first of the Missy clones was born late last year; two more were born in February.

He says he considers the Missy clones the first commercial clonings - as opposed to a business venture - because they were produced before he went into partnership with Hwang, and because he paid for them with family money.

Hawthorne called RNL's quest to clone Booger "a publicity stunt." RNL, meanwhile, points out that Hawthorne's company "doesn't have a cloning facility, and his subcontractor is led by a discredited scientist."

"Five cloning auctions and a cloning giveaway?" Jin, the RNL spokesman, asked. "Who is performing the publicity stunt?"

'Help me, Booger'

Bernann McKinney of California was living alone on a remote farm when, driving through town one day, she found Booger by the side of the road.

A longtime animal rescuer, she knew that the dog, being a pit bull type, would likely be euthanized if she brought him to a shelter.

"So I said, 'Get in the car, buddy, you're going home.' We forged a fast friendship," McKinney said. "Little did I know that 30 days later this dog was going to save my life."

At the suggestion of a relative who expressed concerns about a single woman living alone in an isolated area, McKinney agreed to take on another dog, as well, a large mixed breed, trained as a guard dog and named Tuff Guy, or Tuffy for short.

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