Friday, April 25, 2008

Drug-Sniffing Dogs Cloned in Korea

The Korean Customs Service today unveiled seven golden Labrador retrievers cloned from a skilled drug-sniffing canine in active service—a test to see if duplicates could reduce the difficulty and expense of finding dogs qualified to detect drugs and explosives, officials say.

Seen here at their training facility near Incheon International Airport west of Seoul, the pups were born five to six months ago.

The dogs all currently share the same name: "Toppy"—a portmanteau of the words "tomorrow" and "puppy."

In February all seven passed a behavior test to check if they are qualified to work as sniffing dogs. Only 10 to 15 percent of naturally born dogs pass the test.

If the cloned dogs succeed in other tests for physical strength, concentration, and sniffing ability, they will be put to work by July 2009 at airports and harbors across South Korea, according to the training center.

Normally, only about three out every ten naturally born dogs the center trains—at a cost of about $40,140 each—ends up qualifying for the job.

The cloning was conducted by the team at Seoul National University that in 2005 successfully created the first known dog clone, an Afghan hound named Snuppy.

The team's leader, Lee Byeong-chun, was a key aide to disgraced scientist Hwang Woo-suk. Hwang's purported breakthroughs in stem cell research were revealed as false, but independent tests proved the team's dog cloning was genuine.

Lee said it cost approximately $100,000 to $150,000 to clone each of the seven Labradors.

The seven are the first cloned drug-sniffing dogs, though his team has cloned 13 other dogs and five wolves, he added.

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