"The kitten was vigorous at birth and appears to be completely normal," the scientists say.
The announcement of the successful cat cloning was delayed until the animal had completed its shot series and its immune system was fully developed.
The work in Texas was funded in part by a company that hopes to use the technology to provide commercial cloning of companion animals for pet owners.
Endangered Species Could Benefit
The Texas A&M University announcement was greeted with a mixture of joy and disappointment by the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, which has been trying hard to clone domestic cats so as to learn how to clone endangered felines. "It was only a matter of who was going to be the first to succeed in producing a cloned cat," said Philip Damiani, a staff scientist with the Institute. Damiani was involved in the first successful clone of an endangered species, a gaur (a kind of wild cattle) in January 2001.
The Audubon Nature Institute has been doing similar experiments to those of their colleagues in Texas. "The significance of their breakthrough is that it now allows us to take this technology and apply it for the preservation of endangered species," Damiani said. "It proves that cloning technology can be applied not only to livestock but also to companion animals. Ultimately it will also be used for endangered species."
There may be a significant demand for commercial cloning of pets, according to anecdotal evidence. Richard Denniston of Lazaron Biotechnologies said several hundred customers had "banked" the DNA of their animal companions with his company in the hope that some day they would be able to replicate them.
"We have banked lots and lots of cells of cats as well as dogs, cattle, goats, horses, you name it. There are quite a number of people who are interested in doing this."
Denniston said it was difficult to estimate when the cloning of dogs and cats might become commercially available. "Commercial cloning of cattle has been available for about a year now, and that was within a couple of years of the first bovine clone being born. Cloning of some species will be more successful than others, but there's still a lot of research that needs to be done," he said.
Humane Society Opposes Cloning
The Humane Society of the United States is opposed to the concept of cloning pets. "In the first place it is dangerous for the animals involved," said Brian Sodergren, who monitors the exploitation and abuse of companion animals for the society. "Take the cat that was cloned: The sheer amount of embryos it took is quite mind boggling.
"Secondly, cloning adds needlessly to the overpopulation of pets in the United States. There are millions of dogs and cats in shelters waiting to be adopted, looking for responsible owners and loving homes. About half of them will be euthanized because there are not enough homes for them."
Sodergren said he understood there was a close bond between people and their pets. "They do become a part of your life, and you grow up with them and learn to love their habits and ways. But to think that by cloning your pet you are going to get the same animal, that is a fallacy. You may get a cat that looks the same but the chances are it will not be the same animal socially because those things involve upbringing and environment."
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