SNU denies abuse of cloned sniffer beagle

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SNU denies abuse of cloned sniffer beagle

Seoul National University (SNU) on Thursday denied accusations that a research team led by one of its professors intentionally harmed a cloned dog that died last February, but acknowledged the researchers made no “active” effort to seek treatment for the canine when he began to drastically lose weight during an experiment.

The university said it was planning to refer the case to an internal committee overlooking research management to decide whether to penalize members of a team led by Lee Byeong-chun, a renowned professor of veterinary medicine.

SNU’s announcement was made the same day the head of Beagle Rescue Network, a local nonprofit organization that rescues beagles used in lab experiments, appeared at a Seoul police precinct to answer questions about a complaint he made against Lee.

The organization, based in Nonsan, South Chungcheong, accused Lee and his research colleagues of abusing a cloned beagle named Mei, and said the mistreatment led to the animal’s death in late February. The group asked police to charge Lee with animal abuse.

Mei was born in October 2012 in a successful cloning experiment led by Lee. For five years, the dog worked for the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency’s Incheon International Airport branch as a detection dog.

In March 2018, he was taken back to Lee’s lab for an experiment on “developing smart sniffers for advanced quarantine technology” but died last February of an unknown cause.

Local animal groups, including Beagle Rescue Network, believe Mei was abused during the experiment, an allegation SNU denies. The research, which was commissioned by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and cost some 2.5 billion won ($2.1 million) from the national budget, was supposed to be conducted from 2016 to 2021. SNU pulled the plug on the experiment last month after animal activists complained about the school and Lee.

A ministry official said the experiment was supposed to produce cloned sniffers with greater physical strength and concentration ability.

In the aftermath of the controversy, SNU launched its own probe into Lee and his lab, and the results were announced Thursday.

Based on meetings with researchers on Lee’s team, their experiment notes and a visit to the lab, SNU’s investigation committee said Thursday they couldn’t find any evidence indicating that the members intentionally starved Mei or assaulted him.

But when Mei started shedding weight last October after being transferred to SNU, Lee’s teammates should have taken him to a vet and sought medical attention for him, but they didn’t, said SNU. They only changed his dog food and ran a test on him to check whether he had a disease, the probe concluded. SNU said it re-ran an autopsy on Mei lately but could not figure out the cause of death.

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