Britain’s first cloned dog has been born after owner Rebecca Smith won a £60,000 contest.
Winnie, a 12-year-old dachshund, was reproduced as a puppy called “mini Winnie” in a laboratory. The incredible test tube process will give hope for millions of dog owners looking to immortalise their pets in the future.
Rebecca, 29, said: “We Brits do have a close attachment to our dogs, so it is exciting. My sausage dog is very special but she is 12 and not going to be around forever. My boyfriend always joked, ‘We need to get her cloned.’
“Then I read an article about it and there was a competition to get your pet cloned.
“We sent in some videos and it just sort of snowballed from there.” Rebecca, a caterer from West London, travelled from Britain to Seoul, South Korea, and witnessed “mini Winnie” being born on March 30.
Cloning company Sooam Biotech now hopes thousands of other Brits will follow Rebecca’s lead, despite the hefty £60,000 price tag.
But last night one of the creators of Dolly the sheep, who was cloned in 1996, said he was sceptical of cloning dogs.
Sir Ian Wilmut said: “Owners will be disappointed. So much of the personality of a dog comes from the way you treat them. If you spend £60,000 on a cloned dog you will treat it differently. I am sufficiently sceptical.” Winnie was chosen by a party of executives from Sooam Biotech who travelled to the UK to pick three dogs from a shortlist before presenting each case to the company.
After being told Winnie had won, a sample of her skin tissue was taken and stored in liquid nitrogen before being transported to South Korea.
In Seoul, her cells were put into eggs from a donor dog of the same breed. A spark of electricity then created a cloned embryo which was in turn transferred into a surrogate dog.
Mini Winnie was born via caesarean from a mongrel dog much bigger than itself and weighed just over 1lb.
Rebecca said: “I saw it being born and it looks exactly like Winnie. It is identical. Personality-wise I couldn’t tell you because it doesn’t see and it doesn’t hear yet – it is just a little sausage dog that wriggles around drinking milk.
“They are going to keep me updated with videos and photos and we will try to visit again in the next few months.”
Sadly the new dog will not meet original Winnie for some time.
Rebecca added: “I have to wait six months because of our strict quarantine laws. It is heartbreaking. I am going to write to David Cameron to see if he can make an exception for ‘mini Winnie’. It was so hard leaving her behind, she is so sweet.”
Rebecca will be seen in a Channel 4 documentary tonight crediting Winnie with helping her overcome bulimia as a teenager.
Before winning the competition, she said: “I had bulimia and struggled with that for 10 years. It is an isolating thing – you decline invitations to go places and stay in your room with food and spend your whole time bingeing and purging.
“It takes everything from you, to the point where you don’t care anymore. I have come out the other end now and it has made me a stronger person and I think that Winnie has helped me through.
“Winnie is the best sausage dog in the whole world. She is desperate to be cloned because the world would be a better place with more Winnies in it.
“Everyone that meets her loves her.”
Sooam Biotech has now carried out around 400 cloning procedures with big interest in the Far East and America.
But a spokesman for animal rights organisation PETA said: “It’s understandable that people fantasise about replicating an adored dog but cloning can only replicate genetic material.
“Cloned animals will develop different personalities. We cannot resurrect animals, but we can give living animals in desperate need a chance at a happy life. Every year, millions of homeless animals are euthanised.”
Rebecca said: “I have seen on pet forums that some people are against it. But the facility where the cloning takes place makes sure the animals are treated well. It is a lovely environment.
“Their vet centres are like something you would find on posh Harley Street.
“I understand people saying we are playing god but science is developing. Are we playing god with IVF treatment or body part transplants?
“At the end of the day I’ve got another Winnie and will love it the same way.”
- The £60,000 Puppy: Cloning Man’s Best Friend can be seen on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm.