THE world's first cloned kitten - literally a copy-cat - has been produced by scientists.
The breakthrough raises the prospect that while controversy may rage for years to come about replicating man, making carbon copies of man's best friend, as a commercial venture, may be just around the corner.
Researchers in Texas created the fluffy kitten, named Cc, from a cell taken from an adult tortoiseshell female.
They used the "nuclear transfer" technique pioneered by the Edinburgh scientists who made Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell.
Scientists have tried and failed to clone a dog before, but this is thought to be the first time a domestic cat has been cloned.
Mark Westhusin and colleagues from the College of Veterinary Medicine at Texas A&M University fused a cell from one of the adult cat's ovaries with an egg from which the nucleus had been removed.
Genetic material was transferred from the adult cell to the egg, which grew into an embryo and was implanted in a surrogate mother.
Cc, born by Caesarean section on December 22 last year, was "vigorous at birth and appears to be completely normal',' the scientists wrote in a paper to be published next week.
Despite being a clone, Cc's coat has a different pattern from that of the donor cat.
"As with other genetically identical animals with multicoloured coats, the cloned kitten's colour patterning is not exactly the same as that of the nuclear donor - this is because the pattern of pigmentation in multi-coloured animals is the result not only of genetic factors but also of developmental factors that are not controlled by genotype," the scientists wrote.
The research was due to appear in next week's edition of the journal 'Nature' but news leaked out yesterday.
As with other cloned animals, it took a number of attempts to create Cc. In total 87 cloned embryos were transferred into eight surrogate mothers, resulting in one successful and one failed pregnancy.
Most of the money for CopyCat has come from John Sperling, an 81-year-old philanthropist with an enduring enthusiasm for cloning.
He has created a company, Genetic Savings and Clone, also based in Texas, that could begin to market the new science if it proves safe and reliable.
Nobody would question that the market for pet cloning is there. Hundreds of Americans have already paid hundreds of dollars to put cells of their favourite furry companions into storage pending the day when pet cloning is available. The only alternative now is to have your pet freeze-dried and stuffed.
Mr Sperling's company hopes originally to offer the pet cloning service to very rich clients in America who can't bear to be separated from the very pampered pooches. But the long-run goal is to offer pet cloning to the public as a whole.
Critics are already arguing that there are enough pets in this world, including any number of abandoned and unwanted animals in pounds, without further adding to the population in the laboratory.
But Mrr Sperling begs to differ, however, saying that claims pet cloning would lead "to an improvement in human life."
He had first hoped to clone an ageing dog named Missy but scientists decided to try it with a cat first.
Species already been cloned successfully are sheep, pigs, cattle, goats and mice.
(Independent News Service)