Have you heard the one about the Beagle that glowed? No. It’s not a joke. And it’s not a Claymation Christmas special. It’s another dog cloning experiment out of South Korea (home of RNL Bio, which is steadily building a commercial dog-cloning operation). According to a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader (with photos), the Beagle clones, infused with a gene from a sea anemone, have a rosy flush in their muzzles and paws. There are reportedly as many as 30 of these transgenic dogs, known as Ruppies (an amalgam of ruby and puppies), living in research facilities at the University of Seoul.
According to a University of Kentucky project researcher paraphrased in Herald-Leader, the glowing beagle represents a scientific advance that could lead to the commercial development of dogs bred with specific traits, “such as green eyes” (that’s an advance?) or as alternative to shorter-lived mice in developing genes that could address specific diseases.
I was dismayed by this story, not merely saddened for what is probably an unhappy lab life for current and future Ruppies but worried about the potential commercial applications in a world with too many designer dogs. Already, there is interest in glowing dogs as pets—hardly a big marketing leap in a world with genetically engineered glowing fish.
Also, I can’t help wondering about the role of American researchers working in South Korea’s labs, where—at least it’s been reported in the case of RNL Bio—they can ignore safeguards to ensure the wellbeing of dogs. Are they doing things over there that they couldn’t get away with here?
To my way of thinking, Ruppies are a step backward in a year when we reported good news for animals in lab settings. In May, the University of Cincinnati banned the use of purpose-bred animals for educational purposes (including surgeries and dissection). In October, we blogged about efforts to make experimental treatments available to dying pets, as an alternative to inducing sickness in otherwise healthy animals for research.
A shout out to Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic magazine blog, where I first read about the Ruppies. Sullivan has a pair of Beagles and occasionally sprinkles news from dogdom among his political fare, including earlier this week, this adorable YouTube video of Waffle the Goldendoodle versus an ice cube.