Since Frankenstein’s Cat came out last month, I’ve been traveling the country and giving talks about animal biotechnology. Along the way, I’ve been telling the story of a Black Angus bull named Bull 86.
In the early 1980s, scientists at Texas A&M discovered the bull, which just happened to have a natural genetic mutation that left him totally resistant to several serious diseases, including tuberculosis, salmonella, and brucellosis (a nasty bacterial disease common among livestock). No matter how hard the scientists tried, they simply couldn’t make Bull 86 sick.
The researchers spent years studying Bull 86, but the animal eventually got old and died. The scientists made sure to freeze some of his sperm before he died, but the sample was later accidentally destroyed in a laboratory accident. So it seemed as though Bull 86’s valuable genes had died out with him.
By the late 1990s, however, Texas A&M was exploring the brave new world of animal cloning. One of the scientists heading up the cloning effort, veterinary physiologist Mark Westhusin, had an idea: He knew that Bull 86′s sperm was gone, but perhaps there were other cell samples tucked away somewhere?
Lo and behold, hidden in the freezer, was a sample that the researchers had forgotten about: a skin biopsy taken from Bull 86’s ear 15 years earlier. That was all that Westhusin needed to clone Bull 86. (He used the DNA contained in the bull’s skin cells to build cloned embryos and then implanted these embryos in surrogate mothers.) The clone turned out to be disease-resistant, too.
I usually tell this story to audiences as an example of unconventional uses for cloning. (For more on the science behind this project, see the researchers’ 2007 paper: “Rescuing valuable genomes by animal cloning: a case for natural disease resistance in cattle.”) But I always get a chuckle when I announce the clone’s name: 86 Squared.
But that, it turns out, is just the beginning. Because, after spending several years mulling over the scientific, economic, and ethical implications of cloning, I have came to a profound conclusion: Animal cloners love them some wordplay.
Here’s are some of my favorite examples:
- A rodeo clown asked Texas A&M to clone his beloved Brahman bull, an unusually docile creature named Chance. The clone was named (what else?) Second Chance.
- Scientists at A&M also duplicated a Boer goat and named the clone Second Addition.
- The world’s first cloned cat–also created at A&M–is named CC, short for “Carbon Copy.” (Many news outlets reported that CC stood for “Copy Cat,” which is wrong, but also amusing.)
- Scientists in New Orleans cloned an African wildcat and named him Ditteaux.
- The first pet cloning company, which launched in the U.S. in 2000 was called Genetic Savings & Clone.
- The impetus for GSC was that John Sperling, the billionaire who bankrolled it, wanted to clone a beloved border collie mix named Missy. The name of this endeavor: The Missyplicity Project.
- GSC eventually offered nine cat owners the chance to clone their furry friends as part of what the company called the “Nine Lives Extravaganza.” (The price for a cat clone, by the way, was $50,000.)
- The CEO of GSC cloned his own cat, a female Bengal cat named Tahini. The two clones were named Tabouli and Baba Ganoush.
- GSC closed its doors in 2006; today, there are no commercial pet cloning companies left in the U.S. (There are two dog cloning outfits in Korea, where cloning Fido can cost six figures.) But there are companies that will store your pet’s DNA in liquid nitrogen in the hope that one day, cloning will become less expensive and more mainstream. The name of one such company? PerPETuate.
Have I missed your favorite example of cloning wordplay? Let me know in the comments below.
Images: 1. Courtesy of Texas A&M University. 2. Emily Anthes.