Two Singaporeans fail in bid to clone much-loved pet

DNA from Oscar the golden retriever was sent to Korean biotech lab Sooam. The fee was US$100,000 (S$141,300).
DNA from Oscar the golden retriever was sent to Korean biotech lab Sooam. The fee was US$100,000 (S$141,300).PHOTO: COURTESY OF JOYCE LI

SEOUL • Oscar the golden retriever was a happy dog with a goofy grin that never showed signs of pain despite the tumour in its brain, said its owner Joyce Li.

It also helped to bring together two of her friends, who fell in love while helping to care for it.

It was such a special dog that the three of them decided to pool their money and have it cloned after it died last year, aged 13.

Ms Li, 37, is one of two Singaporeans who asked Korean biotechnology lab Sooam in August last year to clone their beloved pet - at a price of US$100,000 (S$141,300) - but both attempts failed.

 

Sooam said the two cases were its first failures after a string of nearly 700 successful cases. Sooam researcher David Kim said the cell samples the lab received were in a "bad condition".

He said: "It was extremely difficult, and we were able to obtain only a small quantity of cells to use for the cloning process. We have used up all of the DNA source that we had."

Ms Li, an event manager, said she was upset when she found out on Nov 1 that the cloning had failed.

"It was really devastating... like saying a final goodbye," she said.

But she added that she already knew "it was a long shot", saying Oscar's cell samples were not in good condition as they had been extracted from the site of the brain tumour when the dog underwent surgery last year to remove the growth.

Veterinarian Jean-Paul Ly, who performed the surgery, suggested she freeze Oscar's DNA for future cloning. He even offered to subsidise more than half the cost from his own funds, she said.

Sooam said the money will be refunded.

In an interview conducted the day before she heard that the cloning had failed, Ms Li told The Straits Times that her friend, who became Oscar's "godfather", dreamt that the cloning yielded five pups.

"We were hoping for more than one pup so each of us could get one," she said. "Three of us even made plans to fly to South Korea when the clones are born."

She also spoke fondly of Oscar, calling it a "real fighter".

She said: "Its tumour got really bad... the eyes were bulging as the tumour was pushing against the eyes, but it was still playing and eating and being silly."

Chang May Choon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2015, with the headline 'Two Singaporeans fail in bid to clone much-loved pet'. Print Edition | Subscribe