Seoul-based RNL Bio said it is already working on its first order from an American woman who wants a clone of her dead pit bull. She was especially attached to it because it saved her life when another dog attacked her and bit off her arm.
The client, Bernann McKunney of California, provided RNL with ear tissue from the dead dog, which she had taken and preserved at a U.S. biotech company before the dog died a year-and-a-half ago, said company spokeswoman Kim Yoon.
Hundreds of other dog-lovers have expressed interest, RNL says.
The chances of successfully creating a clone are about 25 percent, Kim said, but scientists will keep at it until they are successful in each case. RNL is charging $150,000 for the clones, which clients pay only after they receive a new pet.
"Canines die faster than humans," an RNL salesman told reporter Celia Hatton, "but now, people can have the same dog for their whole lives."
To clone a dog, Hatton says, scientists need a perfect DNA sample to start with, and the new dog may not act exactly as the old one, even though they'd be genetically identical, since personality is only partially determined by genes.
Cloning work will be done by a team of Seoul National University scientists led by Professor Lee Byeong-chun, a key member of disgraced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk's research team, Kim said. The company will handle marketing.
Most of Hwang's purported breakthroughs in cloning human stem cells were found to be fake. But the team was found to have successfully created the world's first dog clone, an Afghan hound named "Snuppy."
Lee was the main scientist leading the dog cloning. He later cloned more dogs and succeeded in cloning a wolf. Kim, the company spokeswoman, said no other scientists elsewhere had succeeded in creating cloned dogs, and that her company is offering the world's first commercial dog cloning service.
Lee confirmed the university's animal cloning clinic would work on the project, but did not elaborate.
RNL Bio plans to eventually focus on cloning not only pets, but also special dogs, such as those trained to sniff out bombs.
Established in 2000, the company produces animal disinfectants and health supplements, as it conducts stem cell research.