Cloning won't expand feline population

Wednesday, May 8, 2002


By John Koch

Question: Several months ago I read where a cat had been cloned. Don't we have enough cats already without someone spending a lot of money cloning more?

Answer: The mere mention of the word cloning conjures up all sorts of emotions, including fear, concern, and worry as well as hope, joy, and excitement. One extreme is the fear of allowing something approaching the mad science depicted in classic Hollywood horror flicks such as "Frankenstein" and "Dr. Moreau's Island." The other extreme is to deny science any opportunity to advance for the betterment of all. Science brought us to a day when in modern cultures the virtual elimination of diseases such as smallpox, typhoid fever, cholera, polio and the development of antibiotics have increased the human life expectancy from somewhere in the mid-30s to the mid-70s.

The cloning of animals should not be confused with the cloning of humans for whom moral, ethical, and legal issues are of paramount importance. Cloning hardly represents a threat to increasing an already existing overpopulation of cats. The calico cat cloned at Texas A&M University required 87 embryos and 188 tries for success to be achieved. Cloning is not efficient or effective enough to mass-produce cats on demand. In fact, it is hoped that through this type of research one day a vaccine may be developed that would render pets sterile without having to undergo the discomfort of surgery.

Cats are very good physiological models for human diseases. As an example, feline leukemia, a fatal cat illness, was researched for years before a vaccine was finally produced. The study of this disease developed many new laboratory techniques and models. These techniques were available and ready for use to study a similar human virus, AIDS, when it was discovered.

It is healthy to debate all the issues surrounding cloning. Hopefully most will agree that pets are important to us not just for their value as companions, but for their contribution to human health as well.

Dr. Koch is a Cape Girardeau area veterinarian.

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