Behind glass in a never-before-used operating room inside a just-built cabin at the end of a freshly paved road, Dr. Hwang Woo Suk is chasing rogue flies with an electrified bug swatter that looks like a small tennis racket. He wears baby blue scrubs branded with the logo of Sooam Biotech, his South Korea-based research company, and is making final checks of this temporary facility, erected from scratch in eight days in the Chinese city of Weihai. Here, in a few hours, he’ll deliver the first cloned puppies in the country’s history.
Originally the procedure had been scheduled for Sooam’s headquarters in Seoul, where Hwang, 61, runs the only facility on earth that clones dogs for customers willing to pay $100,000. He led the team that cloned the first dog in 2005, and he’s produced more than 550 cloned puppies since, increasing the efficiency of a complicated process to a point where he can guarantee an exact genetic copy of a client’s dog, provided he has healthy tissue to work with. Today’s delivery, however, is a special case, and at the last minute, Chinese officials asked Hwang to relocate the operation to Weihai, in Shandong province.