Little Nicky, the First Commercially Cloned Cat
Little Nicky and Commercial Cloning
Cloned pets appear to be the stuff of science fiction movies, but cloned pets are real and have been with us since October 2004, when Little Nicky, the first commercially cloned cats, was born. Little Nicky, a Maine Coon cat, is an exact genetic replica of its father, Nicky, who died aged 15 years the previous year. Nicky's owner, a Texan known only as Julie, missed her cat so much that she decided to take the rather unusual step of having it cloned.
This might seem like a rather futile step to take, because, even though Little Nicky has the exact genetic makeup of its father, the procedure did not exactly replace the dead cat. For one thing, rather than getting a mature Maine Coon, Julie ended up with a young kitten. In addition the personality of a cat, or a person, is not just determined by genes, the environment in which it grows up and the experiences it has. It is doubtful whether Little Nicky made a better replacement for the dead cat then a normal kitten would have done. However, its owner claimed that the clone behaved ilke the dead genetic donor, including an unusual liking for water.
So how much does having your pet cat cloned cost?
The pleasure of having her dead pet cloned, cost Julie the eye watering sum of $50,000. This astronomical sum combined with the distaste a lot of people feel towards the idea of cloning, caused quite a lot of controversy.
Animal welfare organisations pointed out that thousands of stray cats are put to sleep every year, there is hardly the need to spend so much money on producing a kitten. The money could be used to build shelter for the less fortunate cats of this world. In addition the cloning process is highly inefficient, the healthy embryo that can be implanted is a rarity, the majority of attempts don't work. This is not such a huge problem when a very early embryo is defective and has to be destroyed, but if the problems are more subtle the abnormalities might not become apparent until the kitten was in quite an advanced stage of development, leading to unnecessary suffering.
What are your views on cloning pets.
Do you think it is ok to clone pets?
How Does Animal Cloning Work?
Animal cloning is hardly new, ever since Dolly the sheep was introduced to the world in 1996, the possibility of clones of other animals, and even people has become something we have to realistically consider rather than just watch in science fiction movies. Dolly was the first cloned mammal, the first cloned animal was in fact a Xenopus laevis frog in the 1970s, produced by somatic cell transfer in the Roslin Institute. So how exactly is cloning achieved?
All the genetic information of a cat, or a human, is contained in a cell nucleus, and the DNA in all the cells is the same. Hence any cell from Nicki's body had all the genetic information required to produce Little Nicky. Of course only a very specialised cell, the fertilised egg is able to develop into an embryo. An egg cell's nucleus is made by combining the mother's chromosomes with the father's chromosomes which are delivered in the sperm that fertilises the oocyte. The trick with cloning is remove the nucleus from an unfertilised egg and replace it with a nucleus from a normal cell from the body of another animal. In the case of the first commercial cloning, a cell from a dead Maine coon cat, was used.
The egg cell must then be activated by a brief electric shock, normal cells are usually activated by being fertilised by the sperm, which will cause the cells to start dividing. It is cultured in a dish in vitro for several days until it reaches the blastocyst stage and is then implanted into a surrogate mother.
Did cloning affect Little Nicky's Health?
There is some concern that animals that are cloned might have health problems later on in life. These haven't materialised yet with Little Nicky, who has grown to be a perfectly healthy cat.
Dolly the first cloned mammal died at the age of 6 years of lung cancer, reaching only half the expected life span of that breed of sheep. At the age of 4 she had also developed severe arthritis. There is some speculation that cloned animals might suffer because of their shortened telomeres. Telomeres are structures at the end of chromosomes, which become progressively shorter as cells divide, in a way they reflect the genetic age of the cells. Because of this it is said that Dolly was born with a genetic age of 6 years.
However it is impossible to say whether Dolly's premature death was in any way caused by the fact that she was cloned. Other cloned animals appear to be healthy.
Other Cloned Pets
Although Little Nicky is the first commercially cloned cat, it is not the first cat produced by cloning. That honour goes to Copy Cat, also known as CC, born in December 2001. The difference is that CC was produced, also by Genetics Savings & Clone, as part of research project codenamed missyplicity, into cloning pets rather than for a paying customer.
Rather surprisingly Copy Cat does not look like its genetic donor, Rainbow, a calico cat. This is because the colour pattern of calicos is determined epigenetically. It depends on the pattern of X inactivation in different cells as the embryo develops, a rather clear example of how not everything about your pet, or you is down to genes.
Project Missyplicity's aim was to clone Missy, the pet dog of the founder of the company, a border collie-husky mix who died in 2002. This was eventually achieved in 2007 after 10 years of research and resulted in three puppies, Mira, Chingu and Sarang. The company which cloned Little Nicky and offered gene banking and commercial cloning services to pet owners, Genetics Savings & Clone closed in 2006.