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Brooklyn, New York (VBS.TV) -- Cloning has been a controversial issue since German embryologist Hans Spemann first made a pair of adorable, genetically identical salamander twins out of a single egg, way back in nineteen-dickety-two.
From tales of deformed baby animals to abnormally aging sheep, the idea of using science to duplicate and generally screw with our genetic material continues to creep out the public to this day. In order to put a heart-stake in this perennial bugaboo, we traveled to Texas to visit with Dr. Duane Kraemer, a leading researcher and authority on in-vitro fertilization, and the man responsible for the world's first cloned cat, which currently lives in his back yard.
Having grown up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, Kraemer left for school intending to learn animal husbandry and take over the family business. Once he commenced his studies, however, he quickly became engaged in the world of assisted reproduction and left the farming industry -- though only partially. He is now a director of the Reproductive Science Laboratory at Texas A&M, where he also works in the College of Veterinary Medicine. Considered a leader in reproductive science, Kraemer was the first scientist to successfully transfer nonhuman embryos resulting in offspring.
Kraemer is currently working on a project to genetically engineer livestock resistant to disease. While some folks may (and certainly do) take issue with this endeavor, Kraemer's view is that his work is no different from using selective breeding to produce superior animals. Kraemer approaches cloning from the perspective of someone who has worked in agriculture and who knows the hardship of having a bull who can't reproduce. But now he's armed with the technology to circumvent the problem.
During the visit, we were introduced to a few of his cloned animals: Dewey, the first of his cloned deer; Bruce, a bull created from the 15-year-old cells of a dead bull who'd been resistant to brucellosis, a bacterial infection that causes spontaneous abortion in cattle; and CC, or Carbon Copy, the world's first cloned cat, who has successfully given birth to several kittens of her own.
Cloning and genetic tinkering both raise a slew of questions that none of us can answer. After shooting this piece, we're not sure we see any real difference between the "cloning" Kraemer works on and most forms of artificial insemination and selective breeding. While the technological aspect allows for quicker and more direct manipulation, at the end of the day, if you can raise a herd of cows resistant to something as nasty as brucellosis, why wouldn't you do that? That said, cloning your household pets so that you can have them forever is still pretty silly.