SEOUL (AFP) — An American woman blinked back tears of joy Tuesday as she cuddled puppies cloned in South Korea from her beloved former pit bull terrier.
"This is a miracle," said Bernann McKinney from Hollywood in California, hugging five clones of Booger at Seoul National University's veterinary school.
RNL Bio, the company which arranged the re-creation of Booger through his refrigerated ear tissue, hailed the event as the world's first commercial cloning of a pet dog.
"This is my first birthday present. These guys gave me the best present," said McKinney, a film scriptwriter who turns 58 on Wednesday.
The five clones were born from two surrogate mothers on July 28, said Ra Jeong-Chan, CEO of RNL Bio which has launched a commercial dog cloning service in cooperation with the Seoul National University (SNU) scientists.
"They are perfectly the same as their daddy. I am in heaven here. I am a happy person," McKinney said, recalling her years with Booger who saved her life by chasing off a ferocious mastiff which bit her severely.
She said she would consider training some of the pups as service dogs for the handicapped or elderly when they arrive at her home in September.
McKinney said she had contacted South Korean experts after a US company failed to re-create Booger.
The operation was launched in May by a SNU team led by Professor Lee Byeong-Chun. He played a key role in creating the world's first cloned dog, an Afghan hound named Snuppy, on a non-commercial basis in 2005.
Ra's company originally charged 150,000 dollars to clone Booger. But it agreed to come down to 50,000 dollars to celebrate what it calls the first commercial deal for a pet dog.
Ra said Booger's case opens the way for global commercial cloning services for pet lovers since the success rate for dogs is high.
He said his company could clone up to 300 dogs next year for wealthy animal lovers in the US and elsewhere.
The RNL Bio CEO said he will contest claims by a US dog-cloning firm, BioArts International, that it is infringing on its patent.
Ra said the university would undertake an ethical review of his firm's business to prevent indiscreet cloning.
"For my next project, I will consider cloning camels for rich people in the Middle East," he said.
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