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Research Animals - Genetic Engineering

cloning cloned cat pet

Genetic engineering is the scientific manipulation of genetic material. Animals have been the subject of genetic engineering research and experiments for several decades. Transgenic animals are animals that carry a foreign gene that has been deliberately inserted through genetic engineering. They are widely used in biomedical research and pharmaceutical development. Most of these animals are farm animals. Raising these transgenic animals for the cultivation of pharmaceutical products is known as pharming. For example, scientists have pharmed transgenic sheep and goats that produce foreign proteins in their milk. Production of these proteins could have enormous medical and industrial benefits for humans. As of early 2005, pharmed substances were still in the development stage and had not yet been commercialized.

Another growing area of genetic engineering is xenotransplantation. The term "xeno" comes from the Greek word "xenos," meaning foreign or strange. In xenotransplanation organs from animals are transplanted into humans. Research continues on the genetic engineering of pigs so that they can grow organs that will not be rejected by human bodies. Scientists believe that harvesting organs from transgenic pigs could one day solve the human organ shortage that presently exists, saving millions of human lives. The technology is almost to the point to make this possible. Some people consider this to be medical progress, but others see it as another injustice perpetrated against animals for the sake of humans, noting that there would not be an organ shortage if more people were willing to become organ donors.

Cloning is a form of genetic manipulation in which a later-born genetic twin can be produced. In July 1996 the first mammal cloned from adult cells was born, a product of research at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dolly was cloned from an udder cell taken from a six-year-old sheep. (See Figure 5.14.) Between 1996 and 2005, several other animals were cloned, including sheep, mice, cows, a guar (an endangered Asian ox), goats, pigs, rabbits, and cats. Not all of the animals have survived, and most have been born with compromised immunity and genetic disorders. Cloning is still new technology, and the success rate is low.

Dolly, the first cloned mammal. Photograph by Jeff Mitchell. Archive Photos. Reproduced by permission.

A company named Genetic Savings & Clone financed the first successful cat cloning in 2001. It resulted in a cat that did not exactly duplicate the cat from which it was cloned. The company refined its cloning technique and now specializes in cloning pet cats and is researching cloning pet dogs. In December 2004 the company made its first sale, receiving $50,000 for a cloned kitten named Little Nicky. The kitten is a twin to a Maine Coon cat named Nicky that died during early 2004. In February 2005 the company sold its second cloned cat (Little Gizmo) to an owner whose cat had died in 2004. Pet owners can deposit tissue collected from their deceased pets with Genetic Savings & Clone for safekeeping until cloning can be conducted. The idea of this practice becoming commonplace is enormously disturbing to those in the animal rights and welfare movement, who note that the pet overpopulation problem in the United States has already meant homelessness for billions of pets.

Besides the pet market, cloning also holds potential in other animal fields. Farmers may be able to vastly increase meat, milk, and egg production by cloning their best-producing animals. The scientific implications of cloning are impressive. It could benefit millions of people. Yet the ethical questions are troublingtosome.

A Gallup poll conducted in May 2004 found that 32% of those asked believed that cloning of animals was morally acceptable. This was higher than the percentage approving of human cloning (9%). In a 2002 poll, Gallup asked people their opinions about cloning particular categories of animals. In that poll, 38% of respondents favored the cloning of endangered species to keep them from becoming extinct. Only 15% favored the cloning of pets. Public support therefore does not seem to be fully behind animal cloning, even though the practice proceeds in the laboratory.

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