In an advance that takes cloning out of the barnyard and into the living room, researchers announced Thursday they have cloned a cat.
The female domestic shorthair is called "cc" for "copycat." She was born Dec. 22 and is healthy and frisky, said researcher Duane Kraemer of Texas A&M University in College Station.
Headed up by Dr. Mark Westhusin of A&M's veterinary medicine school, the project is the first reported success in cloning dogs or cats. Many people have already stored cells from their pets in anticipation of cloning in the future, Kraemer said.
But a cloned pet won't necessarily be a carbon copy in appearance to the original. The calico kitten differs from its genetic donor in its color pattern, because such coloring is not strictly determined by the lineup of genes.
"This is a reproduction," Kraemer said, "not a resurrection."
Apart from difference in appearance, pet-cloning proponents also say pet owners should realize a new clone won't come equipped with a ready-made bond to the owner or carry other memories.
But Kraemer and Randall Prather, an animal cloner at the University of Missouri who wasn't involved in the Texas project, say cloning cats could pay off for more than pet owners.
It could help research that uses cats for learning about human diseases, they said. Kraemer noted that cats are used in neurological research, and that a colleague wanted cat clones to help in AIDS research.
Moreover, the work could help in preserving endangered cat species, they said.
But Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president for the Humane Society of the United States, called the new advance "unfortunate news." Scientists should be moving away from using animals in research, and the biggest problem endangered cat species face is habitat destruction, he said.
As for people who'd like a new version of a deceased cat, Pacelle said many communities already have too many cats for too few homes.
People whose cats have died should "go through a grieving process, and then go to a shelter and embrace another companion in your household," he said.