Since Dolly, the first animal to be successfully cloned, hit the headlines, scores of farm animals have followed. Now, a domestic pet has been successfully cloned, according to Texas A&M University researchers.
The world's first cloned cat, a calico named CC, is reported to be in perfect health. She differs from the original cat - named Rainbow - in color because of the calico's unique genetic makeup.
The project (called, appropriately enough, Project Copycat), is an outgrowth of the Missyplicity Project, which is the attempt to clone Missy, a 13-year-old collie mix. Missy's owners had awarded Texas A&M University a grant of $2.3 million to complete the cloning of the now-aging dog they adopted from a shelter. The process is expected to take time, perhaps several years, if it is successful at all.
The effort to replicate Missy has failed thus far, while work to clone cats went faster. This is because eggs from cats are easier to work with than those from dogs.
Thousands of pet owners from around the country have inquired about duplicating their animals. And the Missyplicity project has spawned a commercial venture with the wry name of Genetic Savings & Clone. The business charges upwards of $1,000 to freeze samples of pets DNA for future thawing and use if cloning becomes successful in the future.
Lou Hawthorne, chief executive officer of Genetic Savings & Clone, said that the company would then make cloning services available to a broad range of pet owners with the goal of reducing the price of cloning to $20,000 within three years.
According to the official Missyplicity Web site, the project will yield several benefits in the long run, including the cloning of search and rescue dogs, as well as increasing the reproduction rate of endangered canines such as wolves and foxes.
But there are many ethical problems surrounding the issue, besides the obvious theological ones. From a practical view, cloning is still an extremely inefficient process. Only 1 to 2 percent of all embryos survive to birth, and many of those suffer from genetic problems that are apparent only later in life. (These creatures are routinely euthanized.)
Another issue to consider is that the cloned pet will not necessarily have the same personality. It may be genetically exact, but may turn out very differently in temperament.
Finally, there are millions of friendly, adoptable pets in shelters waiting for good homes. Rather than recreating a lost pet, some ethicists believe it's more humane to adopt a new pet.
Mariya Lysenkova contributed to this story