June 10, 2008 If the thought of parting with your four-legged friend is too much to bear then perhaps BioArts International could save you some heartache with its “Best Friends Again” dog cloning program. The US-based biotech company says it will offer five dog cloning service slots to the general public via a worldwide, online auction on 18 June.

The Best Friends Again program stemmed from a project undertaken by BioArts to clone a beloved family dog named Missy; hence the project was named the “Missyplicity Project”. In 1997, news that Dolly the sheep had been cloned inspired a quest to find out whether Missy could also be cloned and in 1998 a multi-million dollar project was launched. Missy died in 2002 at the age of 15 before efforts to clone her had succeeded. Her DNA was gene banked for future cloning efforts. Genetic Savings & Clone (GSC) made significant advances in understanding the reproductive physiology of both dogs and cats, however the business decided to shut down its operation in 2006. Despite the closing of GSC, the quest to clone Missy continued.

One of the key scientists on both the Missyplicity Project and at GSC, Dr. Taeyoung Shin, teamed up with his thesis advisor, Dr. Woo Suk Hwang, to lead a team of research scientists at Seoul National University in a major dog cloning effort. This project was designed to overcome the specific obstacles which had plagued both the Missyplicity and GSC teams. In 2006, Dr. Hwang and his team successfully cloned the world’s first dog, which they named Snuppy. In 2007, 10 years after the research effort began, the team took Missy’s DNA and successfully produced three Missy clones.

BioArts has been granted the sole, worldwide license for the cloning of dogs, cats and endangered species in relation to the somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) cloning patents developed at the Roslin Institute for the cloning of Dolly the sheep. The Best Friends Again program is a partnership between BioArts and the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in South Korea.

BioArts claims to guarantee “health and resemblance” of your new dog, though presumably the clone will still have to be trained to fetch your slippers. It’s an appealing idea to keep your fury friend "alive forever", but it does leave us scratching our heads, particularly with all of the abandoned animals in shelters that would benefit from a loving home.

It will be interesting to see how many bidders apply for the five cloning spots on 18 June and what price they are willing to pay.