Whatever happened to CC, the world's first cloned cat?
It seems like only yesterday CC's baby pictures were being flashed around the world as Texas A&M University researchers presented their scientific triumph to the media.
Almost 10 years later CC, aka Copy Cat, is still in the College Station area. She has a mate, Smokey, and they live with their three offspring in a cat mansion built by Dr. Duane C. Kraemer, an A&M researcher who helped bring CC into the world.
A framed photo of CC the kitten hangs on the wall of CC's two-story abode, which has a screened front porch, air-conditioning, heating, plumbing, catwalks, lofts and an enclosed outdoor play area.
Born into the spotlight, CC is accustomed to visitors. Her paramour, Smokey, is less welcoming, but if you can find him, he will let you rub his tummy. The youngsters, Tess and Tim, are curious and will move in to butt their heads against your shoes. Their brother, Zip, lives up to his name by taking off to find a quieter place when strangers are around.
CC and her family seem like perfectly normal cats, which disappoints many guests hoping to see something more exotic, said Kraemer's wife, Shirley, the head cat wrangler.
"I say, `But we want it to be just like your house cat. We don't want an extra foot or something,'?" she said.
A&M's cat-cloning operation was an offshoot of the Missyplicity Project to clone a dog named Missy with funding help from a company that wanted to market pet cloning. When the dog-cloning project had little success, researchers turned to cats.
About 80 cat embryos were produced, but only one developed into a full-term pregnancy after being transferred to a surrogate mother.
Brown-and-white CC, born Dec. 22, 2001, does not look exactly like the original calico donor, Rainbow, a domestic shorthair with white, brown and orange coloring.
Duane Kraemer likes to say that CC, being a self-respecting Aggie cat, didn't want to have anything to do with orange, so she didn't use the orange gene. However, there is a scientific explanation involving epigenetic reprogramming and color-coded X chromosomes to account for her physical appearance.
After CC's birth, the pet-clone company and A&M ended their relationship, partly because the university was uncomfortable marketing cloning as a type of pet resurrection, according to "The Copied Cat" chapter of Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man's Best Friend (Avery; $26). The researchers were not trying to re-create the same animal, just one with the same genetic makeup, according to John Woestendiek's new book that looks at the scientists, pet owners and entrepreneurs who can become entangled in cloning issues. Kraemer says there is no way to know whether Rainbow, who was raised in a colony of cats used for research, and CC have the same personalities.
Rainbow, who was adopted by an Austin family, died a couple of years ago of cancer. CC's surrogate mother, Allie, also was taken in by a family but was hit by a car and killed, Kraemer said.
CC spent her first months in an A&M lab. When she was released for adoption, Shirley Kraemer was determined to bring her to their home. "There were some graduate students that wanted the cat, but I insisted," she said.
Though the Kraemers have provided CC and her family with a fantastic house, otherwise the cat does not get special treatment. CC eats cat food from the grocery store and goes to a local veterinarian for regular checkups.
When Smokey, another lab cat, was introduced to 4-year-old CC, she hissed at him. However in September 2006, CC had a litter of four kittens. One female kitten, although perfectly formed, was stillborn, Shirley Kraemer said.
CC was allowed to reproduce once for science, Kraemer said. No cloning-related health problems have been detected in the kittens, and CC turned out to be a great mother cat. All five cats have now been spayed and neutered.
As a feline celebrity, CC gets invitations to cat shows and some special events on campus. But mostly she leads the life of a pampered pet, who likes to lounge in the second-story window of her private residence watching over the Kraemer house.