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Cloned sniffer dogs on the job at South Korea customs agency

July 20, 2009 |  3:25 pm

Cloned sniffer dogs in South Korea South Korean customs authorities say they have successfully turned a group of cloned Labrador retrievers into world-class sniffer dogs. 

To create the ideal customs dogs, a team of Seoul National University scientists, led by researcher Lee Byung-Chun, cloned a successful Canadian sniffer dog in 2007. Lee was a former colleague of Hwang Woo-Suk, the scientist who was disgraced when his claims about his work with human stem cells were proved false. But Lee severed ties with Hwang in 2006, according to the Agence France-Presse.

Seven cloned puppies were born, and six completed the 16-month training program to become sniffer dogs.  (The seventh had to drop out of the training program due to injury.) Three of the six Labradors that completed the training program have now reported for duty at South Korea's main airport, Incheon International Airport. The other three are assigned to customs checkpoints in Incheon and two other cities.

As was the case with previous dogs cloned at Seoul National University, the cloned sniffer dogs don't have the most creative of names: All six are named Toppy, a not-terribly-clever amalgam of "tomorrow" and "puppy." ("I'd have thought that would be Tomoppy," was one BBC reporter's comment.) 

A few months ago, the team debuted four cloned beagles that appear red under ultraviolet light. All four were named Ruppy -- a combination of "ruby" and "puppy."  And don't get us started on the Afghan hound that started it all, Snuppy, whose name was a combination of Seoul National University's initials and "puppy."

South Korea's customs agency says it hopes cloned sniffer dogs will eventually save it money, since only a fraction (about 30%, according to the Associated Press) of the "naturally born" dogs who go through its training program end up making the grade. But they don't seem to be saving any money yet; the cost of cloning the seven Labradors reportedly topped $230,000.

RELATED:
South Korean scientists clone four glow-in-the-dark beagles
Cloned dogs not quite like the originals, says the New York Times
Cloned dogs being groomed as customs sniffers
First cloned dog becomes a doggie dad

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: South Korean customs officials handle cloned sniffer dogs as they check baggage at Incheon International Airport. Credit: Lee Hoon-Koo / AFP/Getty Images

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