Cloning, as with flying cars, robot servants and teleportation, is one of the great promises science fiction has successfully ushered into science fact. Just yesterday Russian and South Korean scientists signed a deal on joint research intended to recreate a woolly mammoth, the famed prehistoric Snuffleupagus, which sauntered the Earth tens of thousands of years ago.
Thanks to thawed permafrost in Siberia (where the best preserved carcasses of mammoths have been known to be found) and that mad scientist urge to play god, the likelihood that I’ll get to chill with a wooly mammoth in my lifetime, while no one else in the history of my family on the planet ever got to, has risen considerably. According to the Montreal Gazette, "the deal was signed by Vasily Vasiliev, vice rector of North-Eastern Federal University of the Sakha Republic, and controversial cloning pioneer Hwang Woo-Suk of South Korea’s Sooam Biotech Research Foundation.
Hwang, of course, is most famous for his work in creating Snuppy, the world’s first cloned dog. He’s sort of like the Charles Van Doren of cloning scientists. He was considered a national hero until some of his research into creating human stem cells in 2006 turned out to be fake.
In this episode of Motherboard, we meet Dr. Duane Kraemer, a professor of veterinary medicine at Texas A&M University and the leader of the team that produced the first cloned cat, “CC”, along with a handful of other animals. He clones animals for a variety of reasons – everything from giving comfort to owners who’ve lost their pets, to producing healthy cattle for the livestock industry.
But wait, there’s more. Today, scientists at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology (SKUSAT) of Kashmir, India have confirmed that they’ve successfully cloned the world’s first pashmina goat, which besides being endlessly adorable, are a major source of revenue in certain parts of Jammu and Kashmir for the production of finely crafted pashmina products, where the number of goats has decreased drastically in the last few years. “Cloning” says Dr. Tej Partap, vice-chancellor of SKUSAT “would help us in multiplying and protecting the native goats from extinction.”
Here’s lookin’ at you, kid
Of course, not everyone is pleased with having cloned animals around, and there is a great deal of criticism of a branch of science that is trying to play God. Since Dolly, the first mammal cloned from a somatic cell, debate has raged over the moral, religious and scientific issues involved with replicating a living being. We speak to Nina Mak, a top research analyst for the American Anti-Vivisection Society (AAVS), who tells us why cloning is dangerous and raises ethical quandaries that we haven’t begun to address. While CC might be a success, the odds still aren’t good and serve as a reminder of the difficultly of success in this venture: CC was one of only 87 cloned cat embryos to survive.
The potential for development of the technology by other countries with fewer ethical scruples led President Bush to raise the specter of human cloning in 2001. More recently, President Obama pledged that the government will not open the door for human cloning, even as he signed an order lifting restrictions on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, a pursuit central to the development of cloning.
For now, CC’s owner is perfectly delighted with her cat and her healthy new babies. It may not seem natural to replicate animals, but as Dr. Kraemer explains, many things we do aren’t natural. “I’m doing it to serve God,” he says, “not to take his place.” Plus, if scientists didn’t start experimenting with cloning cats, then we would never have gotten glow in the dark cats.
With reporting by Sean Yeaton. Photo via Flickr.