NEWS OF the birth of another cloned cat was announced shortly before Christmas – but this time the cat is an ‘ordinary’ pet, rather than a mascot for the cloning company as the first four cloned cats have been. The cat is owned by a Dallas woman, who, heart-broken at her cat’s death, has taken delivery of the world’s first cloned pet, writes Nick Mays.
Julie, an airline worker who has withheld her last name because she fears harassment from anti-cloning activists, paid $50,000 (£26,000) to a California company to clone her beloved Nicky who died last year aged 17. ‘Little Nicky’ was born in October 2004 and presented to Julie at a party at a San Francisco restaurant.
"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."
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.
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."
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."
Little Nicky was produced by Genetic Savings and Clone Inc, a California company co-founded by John Sperling, the Arizona billionaire, who wanted to clone his dog Missy.
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.
The company is promising to produce a cloned dog next year. Missy’s DNA remains in the company’s gene bank and it 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 seven 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," Ben Carlson, a spokesman, said.
But Britain’s stringent anti- rabies rules, requiring that pets entering the country be not only vaccinated but have a follow-up test six months later, mean that kittens would be eight months old by the time they were delivered.
When Nicky died, Julie sent tissue samples to Genetic Savings and Clone, which cultured them and preserved them in liquid nitrogen. The company buys ovaries from spay clinics across the United States, which would otherwise discard them.
Then, using a chromatin transfer process that it licences from a cattle-cloning firm, it extracts the eggs and combines them with genetic material from the cats to be cloned. The embryo is then implanted into a surrogate mother cat. GSC says that their techniques are improving all the time and all of the previously cloned cats are perfectly healthy.
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