First Cloned Pet Turns 10

Posted by Pete Shanks February 15, 2012
Biopolitical Times
This week marks the 10th anniversary of the news of the first cloned pet, a female cat. She was born on December 22, 2001, but the announcement was saved for peer-reviewed publication in Nature, dated February 21, 2002, but leaked the week before by the  Wall Street Journal [Word doc]. Nature and the Journal did not name her, but the New York Times identified her as "cc, for carbon copy," later regularized as "CC." She was alive and well last May, with a long-standing "paramour" and three offspring, according to a profile in the San Antonio Express-News.

It's worth noting that CC was a surprise and a disappointment to those who financed the research that produced her. Billionaire John Sperling and his protégé Lou Hawthorne had hired a team at Texas A&M to clone a dog, a specific one called Missy. That wasn't going well, so the scientists tried for a cat, using as donor a lab cat of no particular parentage. Unfortunately the donor, Rainbow, was a calico cat with mixed white, brown and orange color; the mixed coloration is a consequence of random X-chromosome inactivation. CC is gray and white, but not orange. Whoops.

Although CC appears to be healthy, we should note that she was the result of many attempts — initially 188 nuclear transfers, leading to 82 cloned embryos, and one failed pregnancy; then 5 transferred embryos and one, ultimately successful pregnancy. This is not unusual — see this page or the Humane Society/AAVS report Pet Cloning Is Not for Pet Lovers (pdf) for more background on this highly dubious enterprise. To be fair, the scientists at Texas A&M took good care of the surviving cats, including the donor and surrogate, and their relationship with Sperling ended soon after the cat's birth.

Hawthorne, who tried hard to build a pet-cloning company, moaned a few years later, to Technology Review:
"The line they used again and again was, 'We always said it was reproduction, not resurrection.' Which could not be better engineered to damage our brand than if they had just said outright, 'Clones won't resemble their donors.' Who would want a cloned pet if the resemblance is not going to happen? That is what we are selling! It doesn't get worse than that for a pet-cloning company."

Previously on Biopolitical Times: