February 14th, 2002
After 188 tries, researchers at Texas A & M University announced the birth of the first cloned kitten.
Named "CC", short for "Carbon Copy", the brown tabby and white female domestic shorthair kitten was born December 22, 2001.
Delivered by Caesarian section, CC is the only kitten produced from 87 cloned embryos that were implanted into eight female cats. This success rate is comparable to that seen in other successfully cloned species which began with Dolly the sheep and now includes cattle, pigs, goats and mice.
Interestingly, the project to clone a cat actually began three years ago as an attempt to clone a dog.
In 1998, John Sperling, the 81 year old founder of Genetics Saving & Clone, donated $3.7 million to fund an effort to clone his mixed-breed pet dog named Missy. Dubbed the Missyplicity Project, efforts to clone a cat were later added to the operation. Because feline reproductive systems are not as complicated as dogs, the work on cats has progressed more quickly, but research on both species is continuing.
Experts are predicting they will be able to clone cats for pet owners within the next 2 years. The price-tag will be hefty to clone you beloved cat... $200,000 to start, possibly in time coming down to $20,000.
Potential applications for cloning are certainly intriguing... the procedure could be used to replicate endangered cat species... or socially valuable animals, such as search-and-rescue dogs.
Cloning could be used to reproduce animals that have been biologically engineered for certain traits.
Groups of cloned animals would be useful in scientific research since by removing genetic differences in a test population, the effectiveness of a new drug or treatment method could be more accurately evaluated.
Still, it will be sentiment, not science that will have first call on the new technology, as wealthy individuals seek to replace favorite pets. Of course, a cloned pet will not be an exact duplicate of the original. A clone will not have any of the learned behaviors of the original, nor the life experiences, memories, or perhaps most importantly, will not have the bond to the original owner.
Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president for the Humane Society of the United States, has gone on record against the cloning of companion animals, suggesting that people whose cats have died should "go through a grieving process, and then go to a shelter and embrace another companion" in their hearts.
Critics of cloning see the birth off CC as blowing the lid off of Pandoras box.
If cloning were to become affordable and commonplace, where would that leave cat registries and cat breeders? The ethical and philosophical questions abound.
How would our cat registering organizations handle the cloning of cats?
How will cloning affect cat judging? It is conceivable that a judge would be faced with a class of genetically identical cats. Would judging be reduced to evaluating grooming expertise or (gulp) who the owner might be?
Would cat breeders embrace this new technology and abandon the roulette wheel of normal breeding practices in order to custom order a show kitten?
Would the pool of buyers looking for a companion cat dwindle to nothing?
"CC" is the first of her kind... and with her birth, we now must address many questions with no clear answers... just amazing possibilities and the moral dilemmas associated with this controversial technology. While the cloning of animals isnt quite as contentious an issue as human cloning, it still comes with its own set of ethical land mines.