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Molecular Meow Mix Creates Copy Cat Clone

By Sean Henahan, Access Excellence

copy cat cloneCollege Station, TX (2/15/02)- Having already cloned cattle, pigs and goats, researchers at Texas A&M University have moved on to house pets, with the first successful cloning of a common house cat. The fact that the cloned kitten was one of only 87 cloned cat embryos to survive underscores obstacles still remaining in this area of research.

In a process similar to that used with clone star Dolly the sheep, the researchers transplanted DNA derived from the nuclei of cumulus cells of a calico cat into the empty (i.e. nucleus removed) egg cell of another cat, then transplanted the embryo into yet another cat. Cats now join the list of animals that been cloned by transfer of a donor cell nucleus into an enucleated ovum that includes sheep, mice, cattle, goats and pigs.

Graphic: "CC" the cloned kitty with genetic mother "Rainbow"

The one in eighty-seven success rate is comparable to that reported with cloned sheep and cows. Genetic tests confirm that the kitten, now two months old, is indeed a genetic copy of the original calico cell donor. Interestingly, the kitten does not have the same coloring as the genetic parent, a fact the researchers attribute to the play of dueling X chromosomes and developmental factors outside the control of the nucleic DNA.

In a first, failed experiment, the researchers attempted to insert DNA derived from the cheek cells of a male cat into donor eggs. When this didn't;t work, they then tried using cumulus cells from a female cat. Cumulus cells are found near the ova of female cats. That approach was much more efficient, leading to success after only three tries.

"With each new species cloned, we learn more about how this technology might be applied to improving the health of animals and humans," said Dr. Mark Westhusin, the project leader.

"The knowledge we gain from cloning these animals could greatly affect several areas of science and medicine. With each successful cloned species, we learn more about cloning procedures and how to make the process more efficient," concurred H. Richard Adams, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine.

lucky dogOddly enough, the cloning of the first cat is the result of a wealthy dog owners desire to clone a beloved aging pet dog. The wealthy sponsors are funding something called the Missyplicity Project, in association with a company called the Genetic Savings & Clone, Inc. The sponsors have ponied up $3.7 million to clone their 12-year old mixed-breed dog, Missy (pictured, left). Cloning a cat is considered to be somewhat simpler than cloning a dog.

left: Missy, potential clone dog

Pet cloning opens up a new subsection in the thorny debate on the ethics of cloning now raging at the highest levels of science and politics. Issues include the ethical treatment of animals in research, not to mention the appropriate allocation of research funding. The Missyplicity Project has established its own code of ethics, which among other things mandates that all clones produced by the company go to good homes and that the research not be applied in the furtherance of cloning humans.

Dogged Determination

The company ultimately hopes to offer the public a commercial dog-cloning service. In addition to producing genetic copies of favorite pets, the research employed to produce CC could also lead to a better understanding of the reproductive biology of pets.One potential use of the technology would be to replicate exceptional dogs such as seeing eye dogs and search-and-rescue dogs. These techniques should also prove useful in ongoing efforts to clone of endangered species, the researchers say.

The research was scheduled to appear in the journal Nature on February 21, 2002, but the journal was forced to publish the article early after the embargo was broken by some media outlets.

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