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The Rise and Fall of Cat Cloning

The history of commercial cat cloning, gene banking, genetically designed cats

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The birth of the first cloned kitten gave hope to those who dreaded the loss of a beloved cat, while animal activists protested. Four years later, a commercial cat cloning company opened its doors, with prices of up to $50,000 for cats cloned from saved tissue. Today, there is no company offering cat cloning services, although two commercial ventures provide gene banking. Follow the timeline of commercial cat cloning, a concept with a life span shorter than most cats.

First Domestic Kitten is Cloned

Photo of Copy Cat and Mother Rainbow
Photo Credit: © FEMA, Getty Images
On Valentine's Day, 2002, researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A & M proudly announced the birth of CC (Copy Cat), a cloned kitten, developed in partnership with Genetic Savings & Clone. That CC did not physically resemble Rainbow, her DNA-donor mother, was immediately apparent. The fact is with cloning only the dna is identical; other genetic markers (including memory and personality) are not.

It was no secret that Genetic Savings & Clone hoped to profit considerably from this joint venture. Its press release stated in part:

    In exchange for funding the research, GSC holds an exclusive option to license this technology for commercial purposes.
On the other side of the fence, animal activists harbored serious doubts.

Genetic Savings and Clone Sells First Cloned Cat

In June, 2004, two cloned Bengal kittens were born by separate surrogate mother cats. Their biological mother, Tahini, is a purebred cat owned by Lou Hawthorne, then CEO of Genetic Savings & Clone. The cloning method used was chromatin transfer, said to be more effective and safer than nuclear transfer, used for CC. Their birth was announced by GSL in December of that year, just about three years after the birth of Copy Cat.

At the same time, GSL announced the sale of a cloned kitten to a Texas woman known only as Julie, who (understandably) wanted to remain anonymous for fear of being targeted by animal activists. Julie claimed that her kitten, "Little Nicky," was identical in every way to her original Nicky, who died in 2003.

CA AB1428 Would Prohibit Cat Cloning in California

On 2/22/2005, AB1428 was introduced in California by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine. The bill would prohibit the commercial sale and transfer of cloned or genetically modified pets within California. AB1428 lived through two legislative sessions, but as of January, 2008, is filed as "inactive."

The bill was supported by a number of humane groups and other animal activists. Strangely enough, it was opposed by The Cat Fanciers' Association, Inc.

Cloned African wildcats Give Birth

Photo Credit: © Audubon Nature Institute
On August 19, 2005, the Audubon Nature Institute of New Orleans announced the birth of two litters of African wildcat kittens from separate mothers who were cloned from a native African wildcat. The litter resulted from the "natural" mating of the two mother cats to a third cloned African wildcat, Ditteaux.

The Audubon Nature Institute was enthusiastic at what they considered a major breakthrough in efforts to preserve endangered species.

Copy Cat Gives Birth to 3 Kittens

Not to be outdone by the Audubon Nature Institute, on December 13, 2006, Scientists at Texas A & M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences announced that Copy Cat had given birth (again "the natural way") to three healthy kittens, fathered by a Smokey, a tabby cat purchased for that purpose. Copy Cat and Smokey make their home with Duane Kraemer and his wife, Shirley. Kraemer is a veterinary medicine professor who helped clone CC.

All three kittens at the time of the announcement were healthy, and cute as the dickens, as all kittens are. Two of them resemble Copy Cat in both looks and personality, according to the Kraemers, and the third looks like Smokey.

Genetic Savings and Clone Shuts Down

Toward the end of 2006 just around the time CC was giving birth, Genetic Savings & Clone was shutting down its business. The company, despite the sale of two kittens, simply did not find it financially viable to continue in business. In September, GSL sent letters to a number of its customers, telling them that they could have their cats' gene-banked material sent to ViaGen, an Austin, Texas based cloning and gene banking service, sent to another gene banker, or discarded.

It was about 2.5 years after its first sale of cloned cats, and five years after the birth of Copy Cat. To date, there are no other known cat cloning businesses operating in the Western Hemisphere.

Gene Banking Continues On

For those cat lovers who cling to the hope that some day they will be able to clone a favorite camp, gene banking is still available. Gene banking is the preservation of a cats' genes in liquid nitrogen, where they will remain available for future use.
  • ViaGen, which "inherited" genetic tissue from those GSL customers who wanted to continue the quest to clone, still provides gene banking through its "CryoSure" process. ViaGen will bank your cat's genes for an initial cost of $1,500, along with a storage fee of $150/year per animal gene banked.
  • PerPETuate, Inc. offers a similar service. Tissue is collected by your vet, and sent to PerPETuate, where they process it for $1,200 and store for $100/year.

Poll: Would You Clone a Favorite Cat?

At the time of its closing in 2006, Genetic Savings & Clone had sold two kittens and lined up three more customers for cloned kittens at a price of $50,000 each. If the technology were ever developed to the degree that the cost would be reasonable, would you consider cloning a favorite cat?
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