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A Cat Fight With a Twist

Cloned cat raises ethical debate, ire of animal-rights groups

FRIDAY, Feb. 15, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- She's soft and cuddly and less than 2 months old. But CC, the world's first cloned cat, is already sparking an ethical furor over the possibility of cloning deceased pets for grieving animal lovers.

The researchers who created CC stress that people can't expect cloning to resurrect a lost pet, particularly its personality. Still, experts worry that companies that one day might specialize in cloning could prey on grief-stricken owners.

Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, says he's also concerned that cloning could lead to a devaluation of animal life, or to the creation of many sick cloned animals.

CC, short for "CopyCat", was born Dec. 22 at Texas A&M University. She joins the ranks of cloned species that include sheep, mice, cattle, goats and pigs. The details of her creation and birth appear in the Feb. 21 issue of the journal Nature, which was released early once word of the cloning spread.

Study co-author Dr. Duane Kraemer, a professor of veterinary physiology and pharmacology at Texas A&M, says the original goal of cloning a cat was to create a way to study the feline version of AIDS to better understand human AIDS. He says cloned cats could also be desirable for studying certain neurological diseases.

But the path that led to CC's creation was far from purr-fect.

On the first attempt, the researchers transferred genetic material from an adult male cat to embryos from which genetic matter had been removed. One hundred and eighty-eight of those embryos were then transferred into female cats to allow the embryos to develop. Of those embryos, 82 developed sufficiently to be transferred into seven female cats that were primed for pregnancy.

But only one cat became pregnant with a single embryo, and that embryo stopped developing before its heart started beating.

On the second attempt, the researchers took genetic material from an adult female named Rainbow. This time, they transferred five embryos into a female cat named Allie. One embryo took hold, and 66 days later, CC was born.

But CC doesn't look like a carbon copy of the cat that provided her genetic material. Rainbow is a calico domestic shorthair, while CC is a tiger-tabby domestic shorthair.

"It's a stark reminder that genes are not everything," says the University of Pennsylvania's Caplan. "While people think of cloning like Xeroxing, cloning does bring along [the] genes, but environment counts."

Michael O'Sullivan, executive director of the Humane Society of Canada, is concerned that pet owners will see CC's creation as a way to bring back a deceased pet.

"They'll be overwhelmed by grief or joy – grief at the fact that they've lost their pet, and joy that they can think that they're able to reproduce their cat," says O'Sullivan.

Kraemer says that although owners could store cells from a pet now, "a cloned pet will not be bringing back the same animal. It's a reproduction technique, it's not a resurrection technique."

Caplan worries that cloning might devalue animals like cats and dogs by making them seem almost disposable.

The health problems of some clones is another issue. Recent studies have shown that Dolly the sheep has developed arthritis at an abnormally young age, and mouse studies have linked cloning to liver and lung problems and premature death.

"If there are huge numbers of sick [cloned] animals, then it would be flat-out immoral to clone and make animals suffer just to get one that didn't," says Caplan. "You don't have to be an animal-rights person to get the idea that if you had to make four deformed or dying, sick animals for every one clone that was healthy, that would not be morally acceptable."

Kraemer says that research needs to look at why so many clones have health problems, and how clones can be made healthier.

In the Texas A&M study, 87 cloned embryos led to one failed pregnancy and one live clone, a success rate similar to the cloning rates for other species.

Dean Betts, an assistant professor of biomedical sciences at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ontario, says cloning cats and dogs might make sense in certain cases.

For instance, cloning canines might make it easier to breed seeing-eye dogs. But, he adds, "When we get to household animals, such as dogs and cats … is it really a benefit to society to actually clone these animals?"

Betts says there are agricultural and medical benefits to cloning barnyard animals. For instance, cloned cows might help produce cheaper medications for humans, and cloned pigs could produce organs for transplantation into humans, he adds.

What To Do

Kraemer says it will be some time before scientists can successfully clone dogs. Right now, he estimates that pet cloning would cost thousands of dollars.

In the meantime, says O'Sullivan, "Each and every animal has its own individual personality, and as much as I think people would like that to go on forever, it's not realistic."

"Love your dog or your cat every day as if it were the last, and appreciate them for their lifespan. But understand that living and dying is part of the natural cycle that we all go through, including our pets. We need to grieve for them and then move on," O'Sullivan says.

Check out this cloning fact sheet from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Find out more about CC and the company, Genetics Savings & Clone, that helped clone her and plans to offer pet cloning services in the future.

There are millions of cats, dogs and other animals looking for loving homes in the United States. Contact the Humane Society of the United States for details.

SOURCES: Interviews with Duane Kraemer, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor, Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas; Arthur L. Caplan, Ph.D., director, Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Michael O'Sullivan, executive director, Humane Society of Canada, Toronto; Dean H. Betts, Ph.D, assistant professor, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario; Feb. 21, 2002, Nature
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