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Copycat science


PITY THE POOR KITTY or pooch whose bereaved owner refuses to let nature take its course.

The announcement this week that Texas A&M; University has successfully cloned a housecat inspires the conflicting reactions of fascination and dread.

To be sure, the technology amazes while it raises ethical questions and entrepreneurial speculation. Opponents of human cloning and many humane societies are screaming: Dolly the sheep opened Pandora's box, but CC the cat drags the evil right into the living room. Others ask whether this feat represents science in the public interest or just vanity science paired with commercialism.

The work is funded by a wealthy Arizonan who wishes to clone his beloved dog, Missy. He gave about $3.7 million to scientists to pursue his dream, and set up a company to reap profits from any technologies, products and pets resulting from their work. The project could lead to the breeding of genetically consistent lab research animals and the development of new pet contraceptives.

And more pets. For now, John Sperling's company, Genetic Savings & Clone, is also a gene bank accepting deposits from well-off pet owners who gamble that one day, Fluffy may be born again - if only in genetic spirit.

That's because - surprise! - CC looks very little like her "parent" calico. Cloning is unpredictable, and will never be "resurrection," the scientists stress. Therein lies one folly, one moral caution, that would seem to warn against the commercialization and popularization of pet cloning.

Can those who pay to play God ensure that the life created in a dish will be loved? When the novelty wears off, there will still be scratches on the furniture and dirty litter boxes. An expensive kitten that fails somehow to live up to the legacy of its progenitor will likely have no different fate than an unwanted cat born the normal way.

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