California company sells cloned cat, generating ethics debate
December 23, 2004
SAN FRANCISCO – The first cloned-to-order pet sold in the United States is named Little Nicky, a 9-week-old kitten delivered to a Texas woman saddened by the loss of a cat she had owned for 17 years.
The kitten cost its owner $50,000 and was cloned from a beloved cat, named Nicky, that died last year. Nicky’s owner banked the cat’s DNA, which was used to create the clone.
“He is identical. His personality is the same,” the woman told The Associated Press in a telephone interview.
The company, Sausalito-based Genetic Savings and Clone, made her available to speak to reporters only on condition that her last name or hometown not be used. The woman said she fears being the target of groups opposed to cloning.
“Nicky loved water, which is an unusual characteristic of cats. Little Nicky jumped into my bath,” said the woman, who said she is in her early 40s and employed in the airline industry.
The company delivered Little Nicky two weeks ago and publicly announced the news Thursday.
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While Little Nicky frolics in his new home, the kitten’s creation and sale has reignited fierce ethical and scientific debate over cloning technology, which is rapidly advancing.
By May, the company said it hopes to have produced the world’s first cloned dog – a much more lucrative market than cats. While it is based in the San Francisco Bay area, the company’s cloning work will be done at its new lab in Madison, Wis.
Commercial interests already are cloning prized cattle for about $20,000 each, and scientists have cloned mice, rabbits, goats, pigs, horses – and even the endangered banteng, a wild bull that is found mostly in Indonesia.
Several research teams around the world, meanwhile, are racing to create the first cloned monkey.
Aside from human cloning, which has been achieved only at the microscopic embryo stage, no cloning project has fueled more debate than the marketing plans of Genetic Savings and Clone.
“It’s morally problematic and a little reprehensible,” said David Magnus, co-director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford. “For $50,000, she could have provided homes for a lot of strays.”
Animals rights activists complain that new feline production systems aren’t needed because thousands of stray cats are euthanized each year for want of homes.
Genetic Savings and Clone chief executive Lou Hawthorne said his company purchases thousands of ovaries from spay clinics across the country. It extracts the eggs, which are combined with the genetic material from the animals to be cloned.
Critics also complain the technology is available only to the wealthy, that using it to create house pets is frivolous and that customers grieving over lost pets have unrealistic expectations of what they’re buying.
In fact, the first cat cloned in 2001 had a different coat from its genetic donor, underscoring that environment and other biological variables make it impossible to exactly duplicate animals.