The world's first and only cloned dog celebrated its first birthday on Monday, as the leader of the South Korean team that produced the Afghan hound faced a criminal investigation for possible fraud and ethics violations.
The team led by scientist Hwang Woo-suk unveiled the dog named Snuppy last August amid global fanfare. Time magazine named Snuppy one of the most amazing inventions for 2005.
Hwang once basked in acclaim for his scientific achievements, with some in the country labeling him "the pride of Korea".
By the end of last year, however, his reputation was in tatters amid charges his team deliberately manipulated data and violated ethical standards in human egg procurement.
Hwang has since lost his professorship at Seoul National University and the case has been described by scientific experts as one of the biggest scientific frauds in recent history.
The birthday celebrations at the university where Hwang once ran his lab were subdued. Snuppy, short for Seoul National University puppy, is in good health and weighs about 29 kilograms (64 lbs.), university officials said.
For his birthday, Snuppy enjoyed two of his favorite foods; ice cream and sausages.
In January, an investigation panel at the university said Hwang's team fabricated key data in two studies once hailed as landmark works on cloning human embryonic stem cells.
The panel said Snuppy was an actual clone.
Soon after the report, South Korean prosecutors started a criminal investigation into Hwang and his team.
Hwang has maintained he is a victim of a conspiracy to discredit him. He has not been available for comment for months.
Surrogate mom was a yellow lab
"This makes us remember that Hwang had a successful career and was on the cutting edge of the science before the scandal broke," David Winickoff, an assistant professor of bioethics at the University of California Berkeley, said by telephone.
Even without Hwang, the lab at Seoul National University is continuing with its research into cloning technology.
"The government has agreed to support us and promised us significant funding," Professor Kim Min-kyu said by telephone.
Dogs are considered one of the most difficult animals to clone because of their reproductive cycle. Snuppy was born after a normal pregnancy in a yellow Labrador surrogate mother.
The process was difficult and costly. A total of 1,095 reconstructed embryos were transferred into 123 surrogates to create two living puppies. The other cloned dog died after 22 days from pneumonia.
Both puppies were created from an adult skin cell taken from a male Afghan hound, using the same technique that was used to create Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep.
The Afghan was chosen because of its striking looks, remaining members of Hwang's team said. The process, they said, was far too costly and inefficient to be used to clone pet dogs.