- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The first cloned-to-order pet sold in the United States is Little Nicky, an 8-week-old kitten delivered to a Texas woman saddened by the loss of a beloved cat she had owned for 17 years.

The kitten cost its owner $50,000 and was cloned from Nicky, who died last year. Nicky’s owner banked the cat’s DNA, which was used to create the clone.

“He is identical. His personality is the same,” the woman said. She spoke on the condition of anonymity because she fears being targeted by groups opposed to cloning.

Yet while Little Nicky, who was delivered two weeks ago, frolics in his new home, the kitten’s creation and sale has re-ignited fierce ethical and scientific debate over cloning technology, which is advancing rapidly.

The company that created Little Nicky, Sausalito-based Genetic Savings and Clone, said it hopes by May to have produced the world’s first cloned dog — which would have a much more lucrative market than cats.

Although it is based in the San Francisco Bay Area, the company’s cloning work will be done at its new laboratory in Madison, Wis.

Commercial interests already are cloning prized cattle for about $20,000 each, and scientists have cloned mice, rabbits, goats, pigs, horses — and even the endangered banteng, a wild bull that is found mostly in Indonesia.

Several research teams worldwide, meanwhile, are racing to create the first cloned monkey.

Aside from human cloning, which has been achieved only at the microscopic embryo stage, no cloning project has fueled more debate than the marketing plans of Genetic Savings and Clone.

“It’s morally problematic and a little reprehensible,” said David Magnus, co-director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University. “For $50,000, she could have provided homes for a lot of strays.”

Animal-rights activists complain that new feline production systems aren’t needed because thousands of stray cats are euthanized each year for want of homes.

Lou Hawthorne, chief executive of Genetic Savings and Clone, said his company purchases thousands of ovaries from spay clinics nationwide. It extracts the eggs, which are combined with the genetic material from the animals to be cloned.

Critics also complain that the technology is available only to the wealthy, that using it to create house pets is frivolous and that customers grieving over lost pets have unrealistic expectations of what they’re buying.

The first cat cloned in 2001 had a different coat from its genetic donor, underscoring that environment and other biological variables make it impossible to duplicate animals exactly.

“The thing that many people do not realize is that the cloned cat is not the same as the original,” said Bonnie Beaver, a Texas A&M; animal behaviorist who leads the American Veterinary Medical Association, which has no position on the issue.

“It has a different personality. It has different life experiences. They want Fluffy, but it’s not Fluffy,” she said.

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