A British couple have made history by having puppies cloned from their dead pet using tissue that was taken two weeks after it died.
The previous limit for dog cloning was five days after death.
Laura Jacques, 29, and Richard Remde 43, were grief stricken when their boxer dog, Dylan, died at the age of eight in June, having been diagnosed earlier this year with a brain tumour.
Scientists warned them that the technique - which costs £67,000 (S$140,000) per procedure - had never worked on dogs who had been dead for more than five days.
But against the odds it was a success, producing not just one but two puppy embryos, according to a report in Britain's Guardian newspaper.
The couple enlisted the services of the controversial Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in South Korea, which offers a commercial dog-cloning service, said the Guardian. It is said to be the only laboratory of its kind in the world.
The male puppy has been named Chance, after a character in Jacques’ favourite film, Disney’s Homeward Bound. He is expected to be joined on Dec 29 by a second cloned puppy – this one will be named Shadow after another character in the film.
Jacques said she and Remde were overwhelmed after witnessing the birth by caesarean section on Saturday in the operating theatre at Sooam.
“The whole thing just feels surreal,” she said. “I lost all sense of time. I have no idea how long everything took, the whole thing made me feel very disoriented. I was just clinging on to Richard for about an hour and a half after Chance was born.
“After they got him out I still couldn’t quite believe it had happened. But once he started making noises I knew it was real. Even as a puppy of just a few minutes old I can’t believe how much he looks like Dylan. All the colourings and patterns on his body are in exactly the same places as Dylan had them."
Remde said: “I was much more overwhelmed with emotion at the birth than I expected to be.”
The couple said the puppy was feeding well from his surrogate mother.
“I’m trying to get my head round the fact that this puppy has 100 per cent of the same DNA as Dylan,” said Jacques, according to the Guardian.
“It’s quite confusing but I’m telling myself that Chance is just like one of Dylan’s puppies.
“I had had Dylan since he was a puppy,” she said.
“I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world.”
The couple had initially decided to store samples of Dylan’s DNA with Sooam. The firm provide a kit to take a biopsy from the abdomen and Remde travelled to South Korean in person to deliver it, according to the Daily Telegraph.
“We got all the cells packaged up and I booked a flight for him and he flew out the next morning,” said Ms Jacques, who owns another four dogs and 11 other animals at her home.
“Just knowing they were there and knowing I could have another genetically copy of Dylan that my mind at rest.”
But the first samples failed and by the time the second biopsy arrived it was long past the usual cut off point for successful cloning.
However the scientists at Sooam decided to go ahead and push the boundaries of the technique.
The couple still keep Dylan in their freezer while they renovate their garden and are planning to bury him in a special area once it is completed, said the Telegraph.
“I find it embarrassing telling people that I’ve got my dog in the freezer, but I have got a valid reason,” added Ms Jaques
Sooam, the leading laboratory in the world for dog cloning, has produced more than 700 dogs for commercial customers, said the Guardian. The technique involves implanting DNA into a “blank” dog egg that has had the nucleus removed.
Jacques heard about dog cloning from a documentary about a competition Sooam ran for one British dog owner to have their dog cloned free of charge. That dog is still alive.
David Kim, a scientist at Sooam, said the birth of the two cloned dogs was exciting for the laboratory because samples were taken from Dylan 12 days after he died.
“This is the first case we have had where cells have been taken from a dead dog after a very long time,” he said.
“Hopefully it will allow us to extend the time after death that we can take cells for cloning.”
Britain's Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals expressed concern about dog cloning, said the Guardian. The newspaper quoted a spokesman as saying: “There are serious ethical and welfare concerns relating to the application of cloning technology to animals. Cloning animals requires procedures that cause pain and distress, with extremely high failure and mortality rates. There is also a body of evidence that cloned animals frequently suffer physical ailments such as tumours, pneumonia and abnormal growth patterns.”
Jacques, a dog walker, and Remde, who runs a building company had to take two sets of samples from their dead dog after the first set of samples did not grow in the laboratory.
Remde made two trips in quick succession to South Korea to deliver the cell samples.
They are hoping to adopt the puppies’ two surrogate mothers and take four dogs back to Britain next July after a period of quarantine.