for National Geographic News
Now cats may have more than nine lives. The company that funded the first successful cloning of a domestic cat two years ago has gone commercial.
An e-mail sent in early February to the company's gene-banking clients offered to clone up to six cats. The cost? U.S. $50,000 each. Clients had less than a month to take advantage of the offer, which ended Friday, February 27.
A cloned cat is a unique, newborn animal that shares genes and possibly behavioral tendencies with its genetic predecessor.
Ben Carlson, vice president of communications for Genetic Savings and Clone, said four clients signed up to duplicate their cats, and work to reproduce the pets will begin immediately. The privately held company based in Sausalito, California, plans to present the clones to owners in November.
Three cats owned by the company will also be copied. The cats and their genetic donors will be displayed at the American Veterinary Medical Association conference next year, Carlson said, to give veterinarians an opportunity to see them and learn about the technology.
The company is also working on duplicating dogsspecifically, a husky mix named Missy, whose owner, Arizona entrepreneur John Sperling, has pumped millions of dollars into the cloning project since it began in 1997. Missy died at age 15 in 2002, but tissue samples of her have been saved for cloning purposes.
Dogs have proven more difficult to clone than cats. Still, Carlson said, the company is "probably as close to success" as they've ever been. "I wouldn't be surprised if we produced a dog clone this year," he said.
According to a 2002 survey published in the science journal Nature Biotechnology, 23 percent of all cloned mammals produced by nuclear transfertransplanting the nucleus of one cell into anotherfailed to reach healthy adulthood.
The survey showed that health problems in cloned animals range from mild to fatal, including obesity, anemia, heart defects, liver fibrosis, and respiratory failure.
The first cloned mammalDolly, a sheepwas euthanized last year because of a virus-induced lung tumor. The Roslin Institute in Scotland, which produced Dolly, said there is no evidence that cloning was a factor in the six-year-old sheep contracting the disease.
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