Junichi Fukuda leaves his home in Tokyo every Friday afternoon to catch a plane to Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport. When he gets off the plane he heads to a biotech lab at the edge of the city, where he picks up a small black pug named Momotan. He takes the dog to an apartment that he rents nearby and spends the weekend playing with her. On Monday he drops her back of at the lab and makes the eight-hour commute back home.
That might sound like a lot of work just to spend a few hours with a 5-month-old puppy every weekend, but Momotan, or “Momo,” isn’t just an ordinary puppy. Fukuda has been making the journey every weekend since May and he will continue doing it until November, when Momotan is old enough to pass through Japanese customs and come home with him. He does this because he has already spent over $100,000 U.S. dollars to have Momo cloned at Sooam Biotech, a South Korean laboratory.
Fukuda, who runs a television commercial production company in Tokyo says that it was worth all of that and more to be able to have a replica of Momoko the first, a dog who showered him with love for 16 years and saw him through some of the hardest times in his life. He worked with the lab to take a cell sample from the dog just weeks before she passed away last year. A lot of money and three months later, and his clone was ready. He says that although he understands that it is a different dog, this Momo has the exact same personality as the first.
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Sooam Biotech is the world’s leader in dog cloning and they are also making other radical advances in the field of genetics as well. The insights that they are gaining in the field of genetically engineered canines could lead to breakthroughs in human medicine and may even lead to the ability to resurrect extinct species.
The lab says that they can clone any dog, regardless of its size, breed, or age. They say one out of every three cloned embryos will develop into healthy puppies. To date they have cloned more than 600 dogs. Much like many other scientific breakthroughs, cloning companion dogs is somewhat controversial. Beth Shapiro, a biologist at the University of California-Santa Cruz calls the practice “kind of predatory.” She says:
“They’re preying on people’s heartfelt and sincere love for a pet to give them a genetic clone as if it’s the same thing, but it’s not,”
However Sooam’s largest source of revenue, the cloning of genetically gifted working dogs, is less controversial and brings in millions of dollars in revenue to the lab every year. In 2009, they cloned Trakr, a search-and-rescue trained German shepherd that reportedly pulled the last survivor out of the rubble from the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York. Recently, they also created nine clones of dogs from the Seoul SWAT team that will be sent to the police force to be trained when they are old enough.
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Now, I love my dogs as much as anyone, but this seems a little odd to me too. I understand that the puppies don’t realize that they are clones, but I’m not sure I could wrap my head around a dog that was identical to an old pet but still wasn’t the same dog. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I think the bond that I make with my pets is just that, a bond between myself and that particular dog. If I’m going to have to bond with a new dog anyway, why spend so much money?
I understand that some people want a dog with the exact same personality as their late dog, but that just seems strange to me. Not to mention, that $100,000+ for a dog is ridiculous. I guess, if you have the money to spend and you want to use it on a dog, it’s your choice. I’d have to agree with Beth Shapiro, though. It seems a little predatory to me too.