Can you clone a hero? Retired police officer James Symington, owner of the late search and rescue dog and 9-11 hero, Trakr, will receive five answers to that question on Wednesday June 17, 2009. BioArts International, a Northern California biotech company that is offering the first commercial dog cloning service in the world, will be presenting Symington with five puppies – perfect clones of Trakr – at a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles.
Symington won the “Golden Clone Giveaway” contest sponsored by BioArts International in 2008, by writing to the company and explaining why Trakr was an ideal candidate for cloning. The company’s other dog cloning clients have paid an average of $144,000 to clone their canine pets, but Symington will receive his puppy clones of Trakr for free.
BioArts International holds the sole, worldwide license for the cloning of dogs, cats and endangered species, and is partnered with Sooam Biotech Research Foundation of South Korea, the world’s foremost experts in canine cloning. The cloning of Trakr occurred at Sooam under the direction of Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, who produced the world’s first canine clone in 2005.
“We received many very touching submissions to our contest, describing some truly amazing dogs,” says Lou Hawthorne, CEO of Bio Arts International. “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.”
Trakr was credited with hundreds of arrests and recovered more than $1 million in stolen goods during his career as a police search-and-rescue dog. Symington, a police officer at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks, arrived with Trakr at Ground Zero as one of the first K9 search and rescue teams on the scene. There, under horrific conditions, Trakr located the last human survivor to be found in the rubble.
“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,” Symington wrote in his winning essay in the BioArts contest to find the world’s most “cloneworthy dog.”
For his heroic efforts, Trakr was presented with an extraordinary service to humanity award by Dr. Jane Goodall, United Nations “Messenger of Peace,” and was featured in books and magazines dedicated to 9-11 heroes including Dog World and In the Line of Duty.
At an emotional first meeting with the Trakr clones on Sunday, June 14th, Symington observed, “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.”
In order to clone Trakr, Dr. Hwang’s team replaced the genes in eggs from unrelated dogs with genes from Trakr, stimulated the resulting “couplets” to develop into embryos, then transferred the embryos to dogs who served as surrogate mothers. After normal pregnancies, they gave birth to puppies that are genetically identical to Trakr, the first of which was born December 8, 2008 and the last on April 4, 2009. All were born and weaned in Seoul, South Korea, and all are in excellent health.
“9-11 was a terrible shock for Korean people as well as Americans,” said Dr. Hwang by email from Seoul, Korea. “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.”
Other 9-11 rescue participants reacted positively to news of Trakr’s cloning. Rick Cushman of Saugus, Massachusetts was a volunteer with the Massachusetts Emergency Measures Agency who drove to New York City following the 9-11 attacks to assist with rescue efforts. On the morning of September 12, Cushman was searching the same area as Symington and Trakr when Trakr hit upon the scent of a live person in the rubble.
“That hit led us to Genelle Guzman, the fifth and final survivor,” said Cushman who helped pull the injured woman from the debris. “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.”
BioArts International is a biotech startup based in the San Francisco Bay Area, with primary scientific labs in Beijing, custom micro-engineering operations in London, and key scientific partnerships in Seoul, South Korea, and other areas.