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COPY CATS: Cloned pet is scientific milestone, but not everyone's happy

April 12th, 2003, 11:02 PM
COPY CATS: Cloned pet is scientific milestone, but not everyone's happy

WASHINGTON -- It just may come true that your cat has nine lives. Sort of.

Scientists said Thursday they've cloned a cat. And the implications for cat lovers from Melvindale to Minsk are doubly clear.

Your beloved cat dies; do some pre-death cell work and get her cloned.

But that day may still be years away, researchers said as they introduced 2-month old cc, short for copycat, a female calico domestic shorthair born Dec. 22.

"She is as cute as a button," said a spokeswoman for Texas A&M, where the cloning was done using a grant from businessman John Sperling's Apollo Group Inc.

But although cc is a cloned animal, she's not an exact replica of her mom.

The scientists said her coat coloring is unique because conditions in the womb as well as genetics contribute to an animal's markings.

"The public, when they see this, they are going to say this is not a clone," said Duane Kraemer, who did the nuclear transfer process that made the clone. "It's a genetic clone."

Lou Hawthorne, chief executive officer of Sperling's Genetic Savings & Clone, set up to clone pets and rare animals, said other kinds of cats would make more-similar clones.

"They'll never be identical, but they'll be a lot more similar than this," he said.

But Kraemer said potential clients would have to understand that a clone is a twin, not an exact duplicate. "This is reproduction, not resurrection," he said.

Many people have stored cells from their pets in anticipation of cloning in the future, Kraemer said.

The cloning team led by Dr. Mark Westhusin of A&M's veterinary medicine school is the first to report success in cloning dogs or cats.

Apart from difference in appearance, pet-cloning proponents also say 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 Texas 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.

The Humane Society of the United States objected to the news. "We are very concerned about the rush toward the cloning of mammals," said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the organization.

"We are particularly concerned about cloning cats, because there are millions of cats that are killed every year for lack of suitable homes."

Hawthorne, who sees a financial future in cloned pets, said the project would ultimately benefit strays and groups like the Humane Society.

"It takes eggs to make clones, hundreds if not thousands of eggs," Hawthorne said. "Where do we get those eggs? From spay clinics. What do we give them in exchange for those eggs? We give them money. They will spay hundreds of times more cats with the money we give them than each single clone we make."

The kitten clone 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 previously cloned include sheep, cattle, goats, pigs and mice.

The work was an offshoot of the MissyplicityProject, a $3.7-million effort to clone a mixed-breed pet dog named Missy. Kraemer said it appears dogs will be harder to clone than cats.

Thursday'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.