Russia's police dog cloning program has run into a few, er... snags

In case you thought that everything Vladimir Putin’s boys attempt turns to solid gold these days, we’ve found at least one exception to the rule. This story popped up in one of those “weird news of the week” summaries last year and I didn’t pay too much attention to it. The Telegraph in the UK picked it up, however. The Russians were looking to upgrade their ability to sniff out terrorism (literally) and were receiving a gift of three very special police dogs who were trained to detect drugs and bombs. The reason they were so special is that they were clones.

Russia’s security services are to use cloned sniffer dogs to hunt down drugs and explosives after a donation of experimental puppies from a Korean scientist trying to recreate the woolly mammoth.

Tom, Mark, and Jack were donated by Dr Hwang Woo Suk of the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation, a South Korean genetics lab, to a branch of the Russian Military-Historical Society in Yakutia, the remote republic in Russia’s far northeast.

The dogs are the creation of Dr. Hwang Woo Suk, as noted above, and he’s become fairly infamous in science circles. The North Korean cloning pioneer was once hailed as a genius for some of his early successes, but later investigations revealed that there were big problems with his work. Some of his supposed breakthrough discoveries in the field of embryonic stem cell research turned out to be fraudulent, based on fabricated data, and his papers on the subject in the journal Science later had to be retracted. There were also suggestions that he was attempting to engage in banned human cloning research. He was later found to have been guilty of multiple ethics violations and eventually he received a 2-year suspended prison sentence in 2009 for embezzlement and bioethics law violations.

Hey… the guy did manage to clone the first dog however, so I’m sure this will work out just fine. But… not so fast. Now that a couple of months have gone by, it looks like the generous donation didn’t work out so well. In fact, the dogs may be clones, but in terms of practical service they turned out to be duds. (Emphasis added)

Russia has scrapped its cloned dogs of war program after the first batch of ‘superpups’ flunked basic tests because they could not handle the cold, it has emerged.

The designer dogs were cloned in a laboratory to sniff out explosives and drugs and put through their paces by Vladimir Putin’s law enforcement agency in Yakutsk, capital of the Sakha Republic, Russia’s largest region.

But the animals seem incapable of performing basic tasks required by dogs working for the police or security services, and have been rejected for this role, say police chiefs.

I actually found the story originally through the folks at Mysterious Universe and they dug up a few of the more embarrassing details.

The dogs, each valued over $100,000, have reportedly been complete and utter failures. According to the Siberian Times, the dogs are incapable of performing even the most basic police dog tasks. The Siberian Times quotes Aleksey Kolmogorov, deputy head of Russia’s canine service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, who claims the dogs failed because they’re not used to the brutal Siberian climate:

One of them failed to perform any task. Immediately, it lay down because of the cold. The second dog was slightly better, but completed only 50% of tasks. They are not adapted to our harsh conditions, they are smooth coated, cannot withstand frost.

Didn’t anyone think of that before they sent smooth-coated dogs to one of the coldest places on Earth? Sheesh.

Yes, they were short haired, smooth coated dogs without a ton of body fat. And they sent them to Siberia. Shockingly, the breed which didn’t evolve to handle anything remotely that brutal turned out to be incapable of the task. Perhaps we spend a little too much time worrying about the Russians. They may not be quite as clever as we thought.