Furry Math

Posted by Pete Shanks August 21, 2009
Biopolitical Times
Beagles cloned at SNU

RNL Bio has just made a substantial commitment to commercial dog cloning. It's bought 4 acres just outside Seoul to build a research center, which by 2013 is intended to have the capacity to produce 1,000 cloned dogs a year. That would make it a 100 billion Won business, said early reports, which seem to be using the current price of $100,000 per cloned dog, though the same article says that RNL intends to drop the price to $30,000 (about 37.5 million Won).

Even at $30,000 for a cloned pup, where RNL Bio thinks it will find 1,000 human customers a year is a mystery. And then of course there are the surrogate dogs and egg-donor dogs, a non-trivial number. Hwang Woo-Suk -- still the greatest of optimists -- and colleagues admit that "the technique’s overall efficiency for dogs has lagged behind that for livestock animals." Spinning hard, the best they can claim is that "as few as 14 dogs and 54 reconstructed embryos were needed to produce a cloned puppy." Still, even 1,200 dogs a month shuttling in and out would require quite a facility.

And who will do the work? As far as I can tell (and I would welcome correction), RNL Bio's announcements of higher efficiency rates in producing commercially cloned dogs have not resulted in any peer-reviewed papers. This absence of documentation is important to those concerned about the animal suffering that pet cloning entails.

RNL’s previous cloning work seems to have been done by Lee Byung-cheon of Seoul National University (SNU) and his team, who continue to publish related papers on cloning dogs and wolves. One of Lee's papers does include, as one of nine co-authors, one name affiliated with RNL Bio; but then two of Hwang's papers have a co-author from RNL’s rival cloning company BioArts, including Lou Hawthorne who never claimed to be a scientist. (Hawthorne is on the paper about his mother's dog, which includes background, so fair enough.)

There was also a lawsuit over cloning techniques; presumably RNL Bio is confident of a verdict -- or has there been a settlement? Hwang and Lee are doing documented science; RNL Bio and BioArts have both been largely in the publicity business. Is this about to change? Maybe so.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: