The cloning of seven sniffer dogs for Korea’s Customs Service by a team at Seoul National University is said to have cost only $300,000 (Rs1.2 crore). At $43,000 each for clones of the service’s best sniffer, that’s near commercial viability for animals with special characteristics. Cloning is set to become an economically viable business with attractive investment opportunities.
In the 12 years since the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep, cloning has been unique among technological advances in its propensity for fraud and similar only to atomic physics in the ethical qualms it arouses. Nevertheless, this success marks an important step towards commercial viability. The technique’s cost will presumably decline sharply, and at $5,000-10,000, a sniffer dog with guaranteed high skills looks like a bargain.
It remains to be seen whether the cloned dogs will develop weaknesses, or die earlier than expected, but if they are near-normal, a potentially new business has appeared. Dogs for speciality uses, notably sniffing, police work and blind guide dogs, are all in considerable demand. Meanwhile, $10,000 will seem a reasonable price for the sentimental wealthy to pay for cloned pets.
Cloning animals is generally ethically acceptable, although it causes qualms in some cultures—albeit presumably fewer in Korea, where a dog can mean lunch. A company that develops scale in cloning animals will also develop knowledge of what can go wrong and how to prevent it. If Asian countries maintain the lead in developing this technology, they will have a big head start in what may become a potent business opportunity.