When science, technology, and cats converge, the consequences are often surprising, and this is particularly evident in feline cloning.
Copy Cat—the First Feline Clone
Copy Cat, also known as Carbon Copy (CC), was the first cat ever cloned. In 2001, researchers at Texas A&M University created the clone from the DNA of a calico cat named Rainbow after a failed attempt at cloning a dog.
Interestingly, Rainbow and Copy Cat are different in many ways. Rainbow’s coat is tan, brown, and white, while CC’s is tabby-gray and white; Rainbow has a stocky build, whereas CC is sleek; and Rainbow is shy, but CC is outgoing and curious. The differences in the two cats indicate that identical DNA won’t necessarily create identical appearances or personalities because there are many other factors that contribute to both surface characteristics and temperament.
CC has since gone on to have three healthy kittens via the natural method, and the research that led to her creation became the foundation for a California-based pet cloning company called Genetic Savings & Clone, Inc.
CC celebrated her 15th birthday in 2017 and had shown no signs of ill health at that time. She continued to live with her mate, Smokey, and their three children in a heated two-story cat mansion complete with catwalks, porch, and enclosed play area. This home was built by researcher Dr. Duane C. Kraemer, who was among those involved in CC’s creation.
Little Nicky—the First Commercial Cat Clone
Little Nicky, a Maine Coon, was the first commercially cloned cat, a project commissioned by the cat’s owner for $50,000 and undertaken by Genetic Savings & Clone. Little Nicky is healthy, and his owner asserts that he is nearly identical to the original Nicky.
The company had cloned three other cats for show purposes, but Nicky was the first feline clone commissioned by an owner. With the success of the Little Nicky project, other owners put in requests for cloning. Also, many who could not afford the hefty price tag spent up to $1,395 to store their pets’ genetic material in the hope of having clones made in the future if the technology becomes more affordable.
Cat Cloning Controversy
The feline cloning project sparked criticism from animal welfare groups, which pointed out that millions of cats are killed in shelters each year due to pet overpopulation. They argued that the enormous sums of money spent on creating more cats could be put to better use providing homes for strays.
There are also objections to the cloning process itself. Many people consider cloning inhumane, as it is a tricky process that can lead to deformities and other problems, which is evident in the fact that many clones die within months or even days of creation. Thus, opponents argue that the cloning process essentially involves experimenting on live animals.
Concerns have also been expressed that the procedure may offer false hope to grieving pet owners. Those who seek cloning to resurrect a lost pet may be disappointed when they don’t get a true carbon copy.
Much to the delight of animal welfare advocates, after cloning five cats in total, Genetic Savings & Clone shut down in 2006. The reason for the company’s demise was its inability to make its cloning technology affordable and thus accessible to mainstream consumers.
Cloned Cats That Glow in the Dark
Undaunted by criticism regarding the ethics of cloning, in 2007, South Korean scientists developed cat clones with a special added feature – they glow in the dark under ultraviolet light. This achievement represented the first cloning of cats with modified genes.
The cloned, genetically modified Turkish Angoras were created for research into human genetic diseases. Cats are genetically similar to humans. They are susceptible to nearly 200 of the hereditary diseases that afflict humans, such as diabetes, haemophilia, and Tay Sachs disease. For this reason, many scientists consider them good research subjects.
The breakthrough has sparked a new round of debate regarding the ethics of cloning and using animals in research.
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