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Cloned kitten sold for $50,000

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Califoria-based biotech firm Genetic Savings & Clone (GSC) has made its first sale: a cloned male kitten, for $50,000.

Little Nicky, bought by a Texas woman identified only as 'Julie' because of fears that she would be targeted by anti-cloning groups, is genetically identical to the owner's previous cat, 'Nicky', a 17-year-old Maine Coone which died in September. The kitten is reported to resemble the previous cat in appearance, temperament and behaviour.

The Humane Society and other pet advocacy groups say pet cloning is wasteful, given the 3m to 4m pets destroyed every year in animal shelters in the US.

GSC says that cat clones would only be for relatively few pet owners, and would thus have little effect on the number of adoptions.

There are concerns that cloned animals may not live as long as ordinary animals and may have more health problems. Dolly the sheep, the most famous cloned animal, lived for only six years - half the 11-12 years normal life expectancy for a sheep - and suffered from arthritis. It is not known if these problems were a direct result of the cloning process, or were merely coincidental.

In order to clone a pet, GSC requires customers to send in a tissue sample to a 'Petbank'. The firm has five other cat-cloning deals in the works. In 2001, GSC produced the first cloned cat, CC, which stands for Carbon Copy. CC's stripes differed from the original, but GSC's techniques have improved since then.

GSC was co-founded by billionaire John Sperling, who hopes to clone his dog Missy. The company plans to offer dog cloning in 2005. Dog clones are harder to produce than cat clones, as dogs ovulate eggs too immature to clone, so these must be aged in a lab, a difficult process. ®

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