To clone a dog, the laboratory implants DNA into a dog egg that has had its nucleus removed. File picture: RNL Bio/Reuters
A beagle called Longlong has the science world excited. The pup is the world's first genetically modified, cloned “super dog”.

Chinese scientists proudly announced their contribution to the evolution of genetics last week, inching mankind closer to the hair-raising stuff of sci-fi movies.

The cloned and genetically modified puppy was born on May 28, in the laboratory of Beijing-based biotech company, Sino Gene.

His father, Apple, was created by gene editing, local newspapers reported.

Sino Gene believes Longlong is a breakthrough in the development of genetically modified “super dogs” that are bigger or stronger than ordinary dogs.

Project scientist Lai Liangxue, of the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Guangzhou Institute of Biomedicine and Health, told a local science and technology publication that “by selecting a certain gene of the dog, we can breed an animal with more muscles, better sense of smell and stronger running ability” which improved their performance as police dogs.

China is the second country, after South Korea, to adopt dog clone technology.

Although this is the company's first clone, Sino Gene scientists have been working on genetically modified dogs for some time. Last year, they produced genetically modified muscular beagles, doubling their muscle mass by deleting a gene called myostatin.

An announcement was made more than a year ago, that China was to build the world's largest “cloning factory”. It gave the world press fodder for sensational headlines from “China's cloning crusade” to “China ‘clone factory’ scientist eyes human replication”.

AFP reported on Chinese outfit Boyalife’s plans for a cloning facility, which aimed to produce onemillion cows by 2020 in order to supplement China's meat supply. However, the grand scheme has fallen behind schedule.

Chinese researchers at the Beijing Genomics Institute made genetically edited micropigs two years ago, which were sold off as pets for $1 470.

But animal cloning is not peculiar to China. The US, Argentina and Brazil farm cloned animals for meat and milk. The process was banned in Europe on the grounds of animal wellbeing. A European Food Safety Authority study raised concerns about abnormalities in clones, unusually large offspring which resulted in difficult births and high neonatal deaths. Science has made considerable strides since Dolly, the world's most controversial and famously cloned sheep, made headlines 20 years ago.

Scientists have managed to clone 15 kinds of mammals since then, none of which were primates. In Texas, a company clones champion horses for more than a million rand each.

In South Africa, Futhi - a Holtstein heifer - was the first cloned animal on the African continent in 2003.

The mention of the word cloning, for some, conjures disturbing thoughts of scientists creating designer babies. The topic sparks fierce ethical debate on its scientific merits versus the morality and man “playing” God.

While human cloning may still be some years away. Let's just hope the likes of scientific Fido don't come back to bite us in the butt.

Peters is the live editor of Weekend Argus. She is on a 10-month scholarship with the China Africa Press Centre.

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