Last week, Beijing-based biotech company Sinogene introduced Longlong to the world, a cute beagle puppy that is the first dog ever cloned using gene-editing.
Longlong was born from a surrogate mother on May 26th, and even though he looks and acts like any other puppy, he’s genetically identical to another dog, 2-year-old Apple. Like Longlong, Apple was born in a laboratory and used to research human diseases.
China is already home to the world’s first dog cloned using the somatic cell transfer method, and Longlong’s birth only adds to the country’s growing list of cloning feats. According to Nature, dogs are one of the hardest mammals to clone due to their poor oocyte quality and the asynchronous reproduction cycles of surrogate mothers.
But while cloning mammals is becoming a common practice across the globe, it’s also raising more ethical concerns than ever before. Many clones are created for the purpose of testing medical treatments that could potentially help humans in the future, and Longlong is no exception. As an embryo, his father Apple was genetically engineered to develop a blood clotting disease called atherosclerosis, which means that Long Long also has it.
Lai Liangxue, the lead scientist at Sinogene, thinks animal cloning, although controversial, is necessary for learning about human disease prevention. Lai told Sixth Tone that Longlong’s success means that Chinese biotech companies will be able to conduct biomedical research on their own clones — which is also much cheaper than gene-editing.
“I believe that we have achieved a cloning success rate close to that of the South Korean teams,” Lai added.
Meanwhile, Shi Zhensheng, a researcher and professor at China Agriculture University, believes that cloning dogs will benefit both man and man’s best friend.
“The gene-edited dogs have great advantages in helping scientists to research human medicine and genetic diseases, also promoting the study on veterinary medicine,” he said, according to CGTN.
He also points out that dogs are more genetically similar to humans than mice or other mammals — 400 out of 900 genetic diseases in dogs closely match those found in humans, making them crucial for research.
Two other puppies with Apple’s DNA were born to surrogates shortly after Longlong, and Sinogene plans to clone more in the future. Besides using these clones to study diseases, Sinogene’s deputy general manager Zhao Jianping says that the company hopes to clone police dogs and even pets.
Several pet owners have already come forward, Zhao said, seeking to bring beloved family dogs back to life. In South Korea, this sort of thing costs up to $100,000. The cloning of Longlong cost the company 10 million yuan ($1.5 million), a price that Zhao hopes to cut significantly in the coming years.
“Our price will be half of that,” he said. “We hope to popularize [such cloning] for the public.”
Activists aren’t happy with that idea, either.
Guo Longpeng, The China press officer for PETA’s Asia division said that: “Cloning is unethical. Like any other laboratory animal, these animals are caged and manipulated in order to provide a lucrative bottom line.”
Despite protests from environmental activists, the cloning industry seems to be taking off in China. Another biotech company, Boyalife, announced plans in 2015 to construct “the world’s largest cloning factory,” which would mass produce cloned livestock like cows and pigs.
If that’s anything to go on, it looks like the future of animal cloning is too full of possibilities to stop after one pup.
By Caroline Roy
[Images via CGTN / China Daily]
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