Big payoff for a pet project: Texas researchers clone a cat
In an advance that takes cloning out of the barnyard and into the living room, researchers announced Thursday they have cloned a cat.
The female domestic shorthair is called “cc” for “copycat.” It was born Dec. 22 and is now healthy and frisky, researcher Duane Kraemer of Texas A&M University in College Station said.
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.
But 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.”
Apart from difference in appearance, pet-cloning proponents also say pet owners should realize a new 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.
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.”
People whose cats have died should “go through a grieving process, and then go to a shelter and embrace another companion in your household,” he said.
The kitty 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 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,” an adult member of the university’s cat colony.
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.
The work was an offshoot of the Missyplicity Project, 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, Mark Westhusin and others on the website of the journal Nature. It will appear in the Feb. 21 issue of the journal.