The world's first cloned sniffer dogs have begun training and will be ready to report for duty this year, South Korean customs officials said Monday.
Seven cloned puppies named Toppy ("Tomorrow's puppy") were born in late 2007 to three surrogate mothers under a state-funded project, the Korea Customs Service said.
The Toppies have passed the first round of tests for behavioural patterns and genetic qualities, it said.
"They will report for duty in June after completing a second round of training," customs spokesman Lee Ho told AFP.
The 300 million won (301,205 dollar) project was carried out by Lee Byung-Chun, who played a key role in the world's first successful cloning of a dog by creating a duplicate of a three-year-old Afghan Hound.
Lee used the nuclei of somatic cells from sniffer dog Chase, a Golden Retriever, to clone the puppies.
Project manager Lim Jae-Yong said that training the clones of a skilled sniffer dog is easier than training ordinary canines.
"The project was successful. This is the first time that cloned dogs have been used as sniffer dogs," he added.
Lee, a former colleague of disgraced cloning scientist Hwang Woo-Suk, has led his own research team since Hwang was indicted in 2006 for fraud, embezzlement, ethical breaches and other charges.
Hwang, once hailed as a national hero before a university inquiry ruled some of his work was fake, is now on trial.
The government has banned Hwang from research using human eggs after his claims that he created the first human stem cells through cloning were ruled in January 2007 to be bogus.