Headed up by Dr. Mark Westhusin of A&M's veterinary medicine school, the project is the first reported success in cloning dogs or cats, which has been long discussed for pet owners. Many people have already stored cells from their pets in anticipation of cloning in the future, said Kraemer. "It looks like there will probably be quite a lot of interest," he said.
The effort was supported by a company, Genetic Savings & Clone, of College Station, Texas, and Sausalito, Calif., which wants to offer cloning to dog and cat owners. It is investing $3.7 million in the project. "We are intending to commercialize pet cloning as soon as we are able to do it consistently, safely and successfully," said Ben Carlson, a spokesman for Genetic Savings & Clone.
A cloned pet won't necessarily be a carbon copy in appearance to the original. The calico kitten differs from its genetic donor in its color pattern, because such coloring is not strictly determined by the lineup of genes. "This is a reproduction," Kraemer said, "not a resurrection."
Pet-cloning proponents also say pet owners should realize a clone won't come equipped with a ready-made bond to the owner or carry other memories. But Kraemer and Randall Prather, an animal cloner at the University of Missouri who wasn't involved in the project, say cloning cats could pay off for more than pet owners.
It could help research that uses cats for learning about human diseases, they said. Kraemer noted that cats are used in neurological research, and that a colleague wanted cat clones to help in AIDS research. Moreover, the work could help in preserving endangered cat species, they said.
But Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president for the Humane Society of the United States, called the new advance "unfortunate news." Scientists should be moving away from using animals in research, and the biggest problem endangered cat species face is habitat destruction, he said. As for people who'd like a new version of a deceased cat, Pacelle said many communities have too many cats for too few homes, and cat cloning "goes in the opposite direction of where we need to be."
Cc: is a genetically identical copy of a 2-year-old female laboratory cat, Rainbow. She looks nothing like her surrogate mother, a tabby named Allie, and resembles Rainbow, an orange, black and gray calico, only vaguely. Cc: was the team's only success after transferring 87 cloned embryos into eight female cats. Overall, the success rate was comparable to that seen in other cloned species, the researchers said. Other mammals cloned before include sheep, cattle, goats, pigs and mice.
The researchers tried cloning with two types of cells from adult cats. The lone success came in one of the attempts using cumulus cells, which are found in the ovary, from Rainbow. The researchers removed the nucleus from cat eggs and fused the eggs with cumulus cells. Three were grown into embryos and implanted in a female cat. Sixty-six days later, Cc: was delivered by Caesarean section. Yesterday's cloning success was announced in a report by Kraemer, Westhusin and others on the Web site of the journal Nature. It will appear in the Feb. 21 issue of the journal.
The work was an offshoot of the Missyplicity Project, a $3.7 million effort to clone Missy, an aging and beloved Husky-mix dog owned by John Sperling, chairman of Apollo Group Inc., a higher-education company that owns the University of Phoenix. Kraemer said it appears dogs will be harder to clone than cats.
Founded by a group including four Texas A&M professors, Genetic Savings & Clone has the commercial rights to any technology the Texas A&M group develops. Currently, the company markets a service that allows pet owners to bank genetic material for $895 per pet, in the hopes of one day cloning the animal. Thousands of owners have done so, Carlson said.