Cloning a Dog Hero

A dog that was dubbed a hero during the aftermath of 9-11 has been successfully cloned – five times!

Retired Police Officer James Symington, won a competition that was being run by BioArts International, a Northern California biotech company. The prize? Five cloned versions of his late search and rescue dog, Trakr.

The contest sponsored by BioArts International in 2008, was entitled the “Golden Clone Giveaway”. Symington won after writing to BioArts and explaining why he believed that his late dog, Trakr, would be the perfect candidate to be cloned. Since Symington won the competition, he will receive his cloned puppies for free, whilst other BioArts clients usually pay roughly $144,000 to clone their canine pets.

The company currently holds the sole, worldwide license for cloning cats, dogs, and endangered animals. BioArts has also become a partner with Sooam Biotech Research Foundation of South Korea, which is the world’s leading expert in cloning dogs. Dr Hwang Woo-Suk at Sooam was in charge of the cloning of Trakr. Dr Hwang was also the mastermind behind the world’s first canine clone in 2005.

CEO of BioArts International, Lou Hawthorne, says “We received many very touching submissions to our contest, describing some truly amazing dogs. But Trakr’s story blew us away. His many remarkable capabilities were proven beyond all doubt in our nation’s darkest hour – and we’re proud to have cloned him successfully.”

During his long career as a search and rescue dog, Trakr was recognized for helping in hundreds of arrests and in recovering more than $1 million in stolen goods. Just after the horrific September 11 attacks, Symington and Trakr travelled together as a team to Ground Zero. They were one of the first K9 search and rescue teams to arrive on the scene. Under such gruesome circumstances, Trakr was credited with locating the last human survivor to be found amongst all the rubble.

Of this event, Symington wrote in his winning letter: “Once in a lifetime, a dog comes along that not only captures the hearts of all he touches but also plays a private role in history.”

Trakr was awarded by Dr. Jane Goodall, the United Nations “Messenger of Peace,” with the Extraordinary Service To Humanity Award. He was also featured in magazine articles and books that were dedicated to the 9-11 heroes, including Dog World Magazine and In the Line of Duty.

On Sunday, June 14th, Symington met the cloned pups for the very first time. It was emotional to say the least. Symington explained, “They’re identical – down to the smallest detail. Few dogs are born with exceptional abilities – Trakr was one of those dogs. And if these puppies have the same attributes as Trakr, I plan on putting them in to search and rescue so they can help people the way Trakr did.”

Dr. Hwang and his associates replaced the genes in eggs from unrelated dogs with Trakr’s genes in order to clone him. This motivated the ensuing “couplets” to progress into embryos, which were then transferred to the dogs that were going to serve as surrogate mothers.

The surrogate mothers had normal pregnancies which eventually lead to the birth of pups that were genetic replica of Trakr. The oldest pup was born on the 8th of December 2008 and the youngest was born on the 4th of April 2009, in Seoul, South Korea. Their names are: Trust, Solace, Valor, Prodigy and Deja Vu.

In an email, Dr. Hwang wrote: “9-11 was a terrible shock for Korean people as well as Americans. These five clones of Trakr, who saved a human life at Ground Zero, are a gift not just to Mr. Symington, but to America and the world.”

Like most other 9-11 rescuers, Rick Cushman of Saugus, Massachusetts, was delighted to hear the news of Trakr’s cloning. Cushman was a volunteer with the Massachusetts Emergency Measures Agency and drove all the way to New York City shortly after the initial 9-11 attack in order to help with the rescue efforts. He recalls the morning of September 12, when he, Symington and Trakr were searching an area when Trakr caught the scent of a live person amidst all of the rubble.

Cushman later said, “That hit led us to Genelle Guzman, the fifth and final survivor. I am proud to have been involved in this rescue and proud to have worked alongside James and Trakr. If Trakr hadn’t picked up her scent, we might not have known she was there. They helped save her life.”

According to BioArts International’s website, the company is considered a biotech startup in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their main scientific labs are in Beijing, they have custom micro-engineering operations in London, as well as scientific alliances in Seoul, South Korea.

Photo Credit: Howard N2GOT

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