College Station, Texas-In 1997, the $3.7 million Missy-plicity project brought a rash of excitement and media frenzy to Texas
A&M University's researchers along with hopes to clone the world's first canine. Five years later, their venture is defunct.
Cc, a.k.a. Carbon Copy, looks nothing like its genetic host, which strains the future marketability of the widespread cloning
While there have been pregnancies, researchers with the university's veterinary college have failed to successfully copy project
financier John Sperling's now-deceased dog, Missy. As a result, the billionaire pulled the college's funding last October,
spurring layoffs in favor of salvaging the work at Genetic Savings & Clone (GSC), his private company on a mission to make
money cloning pets. What's more, a year after Texas A&M researchers made news cloning the world's first cat, the now-adult
copy, Cc, hardly resembles its original - a detail likely to deter would-be clients from hiring GSC to duplicate their own
Little incentive to clone?
Company spokesman Ben Carlson blames differences in the clone's appearance on researchers' decision to copy a calico, a cat
in which even identical genetic code rarely expresses the same coat pattern and colors. While Cc dons a striped gray coat
over white, its original, Rainbow, has brown, tan and gold markings.
"This definitely complicates things," Carlson says. "It's possible people will look at Cc and Rainbow and will believe that
either they're not clones or they'll think something went wrong. This really leaves us in a marketing quandary."
Missy, the Shepherd mix that spurred the $3.7 million Missyplicity project, was euthanized last year due to an inoperable
tumor on its esophagus.
On the other hand, the differences could be a blessing.
"Their appearance underscores that cloning is not resurrection," he adds. "A clone will never have the same personality as
your lost pet."
Without commercial cloning, GSC operates in the red even though a number of customers pay to store their pet's genes within
the company's vaults, Carlson says. Initial DNA storage costs $895 for living animals and $1,395 for deceased pets. It's estimated
that the actual procedure will run in the low five figures, Carlson adds.
Rainbow, the world's first cloned cat, reportedly has a far different disposition than its copy, Cc. Experts say environment
and genetic make-up determine personality.
"Pet owners who want to clone are motivated by pleasure and memories," he says. "Anyone gene banking with us is doing so on
faith that commercial cat and dog cloning will one day be possible."
On a new path
In the meantime, Cc and Rainbow reside at Texas A&M, where they're likely to go home with Dr. Duane Kraemer, principal investigator
of the now-extinct project. Kraemer says he still serves as a consultant to GSC and cites unpredictable canine reproductive
cycles as the reason for the cloning complications.
Dr. Duane Kraemer
"We're still going to do some stem cell work, using the same technology not to produce offspring but to produce stem cells,"
he says. "We're also concentrating on the reprogramming of the nucleus."
As for Cc's and Rainbow's effect on pet cloning, Kraemer says: "I suppose it does negatively impact people who made the wrong
assumptions about clones. It's too early to know if pet cloning even has a place in the market or to what extent consumers
will want to make use of it.
"I guess all that doesn't matter right now. Our project's over. It's ended."