SAN FRANCISCO -- A company that unveiled the world's first cloned cat nearly three years ago now says it is ready to start filling orders for cloned pets, a newspaper reported Thursday.
Genetic Savings and Clone, a firm that wants to make a business out of cloned pets, now has Tabouli and Baba Ganoush, 8-week-old Bengal kittens who are the world's second and third cat clones.
"All pieces of the puzzle are now in place on the cat side," Genetic Savings CEO Lou Hawthorne told the San Francisco Chronicle.
The firm is being backed by John Sterling, founder of the University of Phoenix, who has already funneled more than $10 million into a project that could require an additional $5 million before it sees a profit.
Five customers are paying $50,000 each for a clone of their own cats, which the company expects to have available by December. The company also said it has several hundred clients paying $150 a year plus an initial $900 to preserve tissue from living pets for future cloning. The first cloned cat --a calico named CC for Carbon Copy -- cost the company $200,000 to produce.
To clone the Bengal kittens, Genetic Savings removed skin cells from the "mom," a cat owned by Hawthorne's 4-year-old son. It then used a technology called chromatin transfer to regress the cells to an embryonic state, and injected the cell into another cat's egg to produce a single-celled cloned embryo. The embryo was implanted into a surrogate mother cat, who carried the pregnancy to the regular two-month term.
The company declined to say how long it took to create Tabouli and Baba Ganoush. Both cats are said to be healthy and do not face any of the common clone health problems, such as organ malformation.
But critics say there could be hidden defects and that the cats may have curtailed lives.
"They're exposing animals to risks for very few, if any benefits," said David Magnus, co-director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford. "The quest for immortality in ourselves and even in our pets opens the door to commercial interests who want to make a profit on it." The company guarantees customers their money back or a free clone if any genetic defects surface.
Cloning dogs presents more of a challenge, but Genetic Savings now hopes to produce a dog clone this year.