CRF Blog

For $100,000, You Can Clone Your Dog

by Bill Hayes

In For $100,000, You Can Clone Your Dog, a feature story, Bloomberg Businessweek reports on cloning projects in Korea and China.

[Dr. Hwang Woo Suk], 61, runs the only facility on earth that clones dogs for customers willing to pay $100,000. He led the team that cloned the first dog in 2005, and he’s produced more than 550 cloned puppies since, increasing the efficiency of a complicated process to a point where he can guarantee an exact genetic copy of a client’s dog, provided he has healthy tissue to work with. Today’s delivery, however, is a special case, and at the last minute, Chinese officials asked Hwang to relocate the operation to Weihai, in Shandong province.

For starters, the puppies are Tibetan mastiffs, a breed of ancient, aloof guard dogs so hallowed in China that owning the best specimens is an assertion of status almost without rival. The donor of the cells used to clone these puppies was an 8-year-old champion stud from Qinghai province whose owner turned down a $5 million offer for him last year. He can earn nearly that much in one breeding season. Earlier this year, a developer paid $2.6 million for a single, gold-colored puppy, and a scarcity of top-quality puppies in China means that the run on mastiffs costing more than mansions is unlikely to abate anytime soon.

Beyond the symbolic importance of the breed, Chinese officials wanted the operation staged in Weihai because it provided a backdrop for the announcement of a partnership between Sooam and BoyaLife, a fast-growing Chinese biotechnology company with 28 subsidiaries and operations in 16 provinces. Sometime early next year, ground will be broken for a 667,000-square-foot research laboratory on a spectacular plateau of yellow grass and scrubby pines facing the Yellow Sea. There, scientists from both companies will operate China’s first commercial animal cloning facility on grounds landscaped to look like a park. “The point is to expand cloning in China,” says Dr. Xu Xiao-chun, chairman and chief executive officer of BoyaLife, whose excellent English is the product of 17 years in the U.S.

Rare breeds, dogs cloned for devoted owners, and specialized working dogs (for police and bomb-sniffing work, as well as cancer detection) will be a part of that business, he says, but only a small one. “Dogs are the entry point,” he says. The far larger and more important focus will be cloning cows to help China deal with a growing appetite for beef. Currently the Chinese favor pork and consume just 5 kilograms (11 pounds) a year of beef per capita, half the global average and one-tenth what Americans consume. But the population is acquiring a taste, so Xu wants to “expedite the production of high-quality beef” through cloning.

Beyond that, he envisions a renowned research facility to explore the various biomedical applications of cloning and stem cells, another area of focus for Sooam and BoyaLife. “In China we do things on a massive scale,” he says. “But we want to do all this not just for profit, but also for history.” He smiles. “Maybe we can deliver the first cloned giant panda in Weihai.” (In 2004, the Chinese government built a special gene bank and began collecting cells from existing pandas with the idea that such a thing might one day be possible.) [more]