Archive for Sunday, June 27, 2004

Company plans to clone pets

June 27, 2004


— It sounds like science fiction, but it's not.

Any cat owner with $50,000 to spare can pay Genetic Savings & Clone, to clone Fluffy or Frisky this year.

The company already sponsored the first domestic cat clone -- a calico named CC (for "Carbon Copy") -- two years ago. Now, it is the first to go commercial, this time in its own laboratories, and five paying customers are lined up.

It has promised to produce nine cloned kittens by November. Six will be for clients and three for staff members, who will show off their clones at veterinary shows. None of the customers agreed to be interviewed.

The company got its start when iconoclastic octogenarian John Sperling, who made millions as founder of the University of Phoenix, backed research called "the Missyplicity Project" to clone a beloved husky mix, Missy.

The project was deluged by interested pet lovers, even though dog cloning continues to elude scientists. Genetic Savings says it is on track to clone Missy, who died in 2002 at age 15, this year.

"We would have had to be dumb not to see a business there," said Genetic Savings CEO Lou Hawthorne, a longtime family friend of Sperling, who suggested they turn the project into a for-profit venture.

Hawthorne is cloning his own pet, Tahini, a 6-month-old Bengal cat who likes to stalk deer in her back yard.

Hawthorne says he thinks the world is packed with pet lovers eager to follow suit.

Genetic Savings hopes to be cloning thousands of pets annually in five years, when the cost should be down to $10,000 for cats, $20,000 for dogs, he says.

"A great pet is like a work of art, especially if it's a one-of-a-kind mixed breed," Hawthorne said. "To replicate these qualities adds to the sum of joy in the world."

But critics say that's faulty logic.

"Cloning undermines the sacred and intrinsic value of what a unique life is all about in the world," said Jeremy Rifkin, author of "Biotech Century," a cautionary work about the Pandora's box that scientific advances like cloning might open.

"We just had a German shepherd who passed away, who was the love of our life," Rifkin said, speaking for himself and his wife. "We'd love to see that dog again, but we would never clone it. It would be a complete betrayal of our unique relationship with that beautiful companion animal to clone another animal from it."

Commenting has been disabled for this item.