When his 6½-year-old Labrador retriever lost the ability to reproduce because of a womb disease, Yuji Satoh made a rather unusual choice: He cloned her.
The retriever, named Marine, is the prize of St. Sugar Cancer Sniffing Dog Training Center in Shirahama, Japan, where Satoh is the head trainer. Marine is especially adept at recognizing the scent of certain chemicals found in cancer cells, and Satoh was interested in finding a way to pass her genetic traits on to other dogs.
With much hope, the dog's skin samples were sent to Seoul National University in Korea last December to be cloned in a cooperative project with RNL Bio Co Ltd., a Korean biotechnology firm.
On Monday, RNL Bio showcased four cloned puppies born three weeks ago, exact replicas of Marine. They are named Marine-R, Marine-N, Marine-L and Marine-S.
Scientists believe chances for these four Marine clones to be trained successfully are much higher because they carry the same specific genetic characteristics of the donor dog.
Cancer-sniffing dogs are trained to sit in front of anyone who carries the scent of cancer cells, and researchers in the past have found that cancer-sniffing dogs are especially accurate in detecting breast, prostate, lung and bladder cancer cells.
"Cloning dogs is nothing new anymore. But we are the world's first to have cloned four at a time from one surrogate mother. This makes it cost effective, and now we mean real business," touted Ra Jeong-Chan, president of RNL Bio.
The company says multiple births were possible because of its patent pending technology for enhancing embryo implantation.
After training, one cloned puppy will be donated to St. Sugar Cancer Sniffing Dog Training Center and one to the Seoul National University lab. The remaining two are up for commercial sale at $500,000.
RNL Bio is also in the process of cloning the world's first commercial pet dog for $150,000, upon request by an American woman in California to re-create her dead pit bull.