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Clone at home for Valentine’s Day


"Little Gizmo" is a clone of Gizmo

Dan, an investment counsellor from Southern California, became the second paying client to receive a pet clone when Genetic Savings & Clone (GSC) officials delivered a kitten to his door on Tuesday, February 8. "Little Gizmo" is a clone of Gizmo, his mixed breed Siamese who died at age 13 in March 2004.

"Valentine's Day is a special day for GSC, because our business in Sausalito is all about the love between people and their exceptional pets," said Lou Hawthorne, GSC CEO, who delivered Little Gizmo with Mike Hodnett, the company's Vice President of Sales & Marketing. "With our second commercial cat clone delivery, we have again duplicated an exceptional pet, and made a certain client very, very happy."

Dan, who requested that his last name be withheld for privacy, was among Genetic Savings & Clone’s first five people to sign up for GSC's cat cloning service, which became available in February 2005 on a limited basis at the price of $50,000 (approx £75,000). One company client received her cloned kitten in December; the others will receive theirs within the next few months.

"There are no words to describe how happy I am," Dan wrote in an email to Hodnett after spending time with Little Gizmo. "She is exact, exact, exact in all of her mannerisms, habits, traits and personality," Dan wrote of Little Gizmo's similarity to Gizmo.

GSC’s company policy is to counsel clients that, because behaviour is influenced by environment as well as by genes, clones may not behave exactly as their genetic donors – the clients’ original pets - did. Nonetheless, both of the clients who have now received clones say that not only do they look like their predecessors, but their behaviour is strikingly similar as well, although this may largely be due to the owners’ emotional input and their lifestyles that would have ‘shaped’ their original pets.

However, Harry Griffin, the assistant director at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh that cloned Dolly the sheep, said that pet cloning was an "illusion".

"Cloning will not recreate a loved pet," he said. "A clone might be 99.95 per cent genetically identical to the original but it will grow up with a personality and behaviour all of its own."

Just before Christmas 2004, Julie, an airline worker whose last name was withheld because she fears harassment from anti-cloning activists, paid $50,000 (£26,000) to GSC to clone her beloved tabby cat Nicky who died in 2003 aged 17. ‘Little Nicky’ was born in October 2004 and presented to Julie at a party at a San Francisco restaurant. Little Nicky had the distinction of being the world’s first, true cloned pet, rather than a scientific specimen or company mascot, as were the cats previously cloned by GSC.

"I see absolutely no differences," she said. "When Little Nicky yawned I even saw two spots inside his mouth, just like Nicky had. Little Nicky loves water, like Nicky did, and he’s already jumped into the bathtub like Nicky used to do."

Just over three years ago, the company produced the world’s first cloned cat, named CC, an abbreviation of carbon copy. Before Little Nicky, the company had produced Peaches, a clone of a cat called Mango, and Tabouli and Baba Ganoush, clones of a Bengal cat named Tahini.

Little Gizmo was born in Austin, Texas, where GSC has done most of its cloning research and development. The company's business headquarters is located in Sausalito, California.

Animal welfare is among the ethical issues the company regularly addresses in its public communications. GSC hosted a media briefing on ‘The Ethics of Pet Cloning’ via teleconference on Wednesday, February 16th. This was followed immediately by a second media briefing teleconference on ‘The Science of Pet Cloning’.

GSC turned five years old on February 14th, having opened on Valentine's Day, 2000. In addition to commercial cat cloning, GSC is intensively researching dog cloning, and expects to produce the first cloned dog in 2005.

The company’s gene bank holds the DNA of ‘Missy’, a dog owned by billionaire John Sperling, who founded the company with the plan to clone his beloved dog – a dream he is confident of realising. GSC plans to make the now deceased mongrel the world’s first cloned dog. However, the company has faced an uphill struggle, as the techniques involved on canine cloning are far more complicated than with cats and the ‘Missiplicity Project’ has been under way for nearly eight years now.

British pet-lovers are already expressing strong interest in cloning. "We have received more interest from UK clients than from any place outside of the US, with the possible exception of Japan," company spokesman Ben Carlson said.

Ethics experts denounced the first commercial cloning of a pet and animal rights groups, although several pet owners expressed great interest in having their own pets cloned.

Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society, America’s largest animal protection group, said: "There’s no doubt that cloning causes animals to suffer. For every successful clone, there are dozens of animals who die prematurely, who face shortened life spans, who have physical abnormalities and who face chronic pain and suffering."

Genetic Savings & Clone’s website: www.savingsandclone.com

NEW SCIENTIFIC OFFICER HAS TOP CLONING PEDIGREE

Phil Damiani, Ph.D., GSC's new Chief Scientific Officer, describes Little Gizmo as yet another example of the excellent results the company is achieving with chromatin transfer (CT), the technology GSC has exclusively licensed for use in pet cloning. CT is more advanced than NT, the method used to produce Dolly the sheep and most other clones. Every cat produced by GSC except CC, the world's first cat clone, is the result of the CT process.

"Not only has chromatin transfer helped us produce healthy, normal cats," Dr. Damiani said, "but it has also increased our efficiency, which means we require fewer mothers than we would otherwise." The increased efficiency of the CT process is one reason that GSC has just announced a reduced price of $32,000 (£23,000) for the cat cloning service.

Before joining GSC, Dr. Damiani worked at several leading cloning companies, coordinating research on cows, pigs, dogs, cats, and a number of endangered species, including the Gaur, an endangered relative of the ox, which he cloned in 2000.

Dr. Damiani also worked in South Africa establishing a gene bank and assisted reproduction laboratory for wild animals, and helped establish the cloning program at the Audubon Nature Institute's Centre for Research of Endangered Species (AICRES). Dr. Damiani received his doctorate in Reproductive Physiology from the University of Massachusetts, and has published numerous publications, patents and patents pending.

"As an animal lover and dog owner, the welfare of animals is very important to me," Dr. Damiani said. "GSC's excellent standards of animal care, combined with the expertise of its scientists, made joining the company an easy choice for me."