CC the Cat
A visit to Duane and Shirley Kraemer’s home on the east side of College Station reveals one of the most enchanting backyard additions you’ll find anywhere.
What could easily pass for a larger-than-life doll house is actually home to one of our town’s most notable citizens.
Her name is CC the cat.
And while she belongs to Duane and Shirley, she’s also forever linked to the global scientific community.
You see, CC isn’t just any cat. She’s a cloned cat.
The world’s first.
And she was born right here in College Station, on the Texas A&M University campus.
Perhaps not until Johnny Manziel captured the college football world by storm winning the Heisman Trophy in 2012, no single story from College Station grabbed national attention quite like that of CC. In fact, the domestic shorthair’s birth made international headlines.
Associated Press science writer Malcolm Ritter wrote:
Taking cloning from the barnyard to the living room, researchers announce Thursday they have cloned a cat. (She’s) called “cc” for “copycat.” It was born Dec. 22 and is now healthy and frisky, researcher Duane Kraemer of Texas A&M University in College Station said.
Ritter reported that Dr. Mark Westhusin of A&M’s veterinary medicine school headed up the group which produced CC. Kraemer, himself a doctor of veterinary medicine, who also holds a Ph.D. in the physiology of reproduction, which he earned from Texas A&M in 1966, was also a member of that team.
“It looks like there will probably be quite a lot of interest” in cloning domesticated pets, Ritter quoted Kraemer as saying in his story.
“This is a reproduction, not a resurrection,” Kraemer added.
“Dewey” Kraemer grew up in Wisconsin and received his first bachelor’s degree in animal husbandry from the University of Wisconsin in 1955. Kraemer is one of the world’s leaders in the science of embryo transfer, which was first developed in the 1890s.
“While I was at Wisconsin, I worked at a lab that did the first bovine embryo transfer,” Kraemer says. “At the time, I thought I wanted to go back to our family’s farm, but I liked the research I was doing, so, I decided to go to graduate school.
“I applied at three different universities in the south and was accepted to all of them. When I asked my advisor where he thought I should go, he said, ‘Texas A&M. I understand they don’t have women there.’”
After arriving at A&M, Kraemer met Dr. R. O. Berry.
“I had not heard of him, but he did embryo transfer in goats and sheep the year before I was born. He was one of my mentors and thanks in part to him, I decided that embryo transfer was going to be my area of expertise.
Kraemer went on to receive both his Ph.D. and DVM from A&M in 1966. Since then, he and his associates have conducted embryo-transfer procedures in a wide variety of species: cats, dogs, horses, deer, and even baboons.
Embryo transfer refers to a step in the process of assisted reproduction in which embryos are placed into the reproductive tract of a female with intent to establish a pregnancy.
Clones are organisms that are genetic copies. Identical twins are clones, but laymen more commonly think of clones as emanating from a scientific laboratory.
And while “test tubes” come to mind when cloning is discussed, promotional pictures of CC, which came out with the announcement of her birth, featured the tabby kitten in a glass beaker.
Dolly the sheep, born in 1996, was the world’s first mammal cloned from an adult cell. Today cloning is common in the livestock business. A company called ViaGen Pets, based out of Cedar Park, Texas, follows up on the work of Dr. Kraemer and CC’s research team at Texas A&M.
They’ll clone your cat for $25,000, your dog for $50,000, and your horse for $80,000, all paid in two “easy” installments.
The scientific route which led to the creation of CC did not come cheaply, but Kraemer and the A&M research team had backing from a multi-millionaire interested in cloning his own family pet.
John Sperling was the founder of the University of Phoenix. Son to a Missouri sharecropper and himself a former sailor in the merchant marine, Sperling is credited with launching the for-profit educational movement in the U.S. The University of Phoenix made him wealthy beyond his dreams.
Sperling spent seven years and $20 million in attempts to clone his dog, Missy. The work at Texas A&M led to establishment of a company, Genetic Savings & Clone, which became a world leader in embryo-based cloning research.
While CC was born in 2001, a Missy clone was not produced until 2007 and then in South Korea. The Texas A&M team produced three Missy pregnancies from cloned embryos, one of which developed to term, but died shortly after birth.
After the success with CC, Sperling pulled his funding at A&M and shied away from media attention. Associates reported he did not want to be seen as an “eccentric.”
“Sperling was an amazing person,” Kraemer says. “He was very friendly and very, very bright. He wound up purchasing most of the patents on cloning. It was a shame when we lost our funding.”
Sperling died in 2014 at the age of 93.
Kraemer calls the early days of pet cloning “trial and failure.” He says it took more than a dozen attempts before achieving success in the procedure which produced CC.
“Because of Mr. Sperling’s interest in getting a clone of his dog, we began working on dogs,” Kraemer says, “but we decided that we should try to clone cats, too. We got two pregnancies in our attempts to clone a gray cat, but neither one went to term.
“About then, people were doing work with cattle using cells of the ovary called granulosa cells. We decided to go in that direction and, ultimately, it led to CC.”
CC has enjoyed a basically normal cat life. She had one litter of kittens. Two of her offspring, who look more like her than she did with the donor of her cloned cells—a calico cat named Rainbow who, genetically, was CC’s older sister—still live with her in the two-story backyard home the Kraemers built for their feline family members.
There are both front and side porches where CC lives. There, she can get fresh air and sunshine. But CC is always contained, as most cats should be, to avoid the dangers and pitfalls of the greater outdoors. The Kraemers’ dog, Mocha, sometimes pays a visit, putting her nose to the front screen door.
But mostly these days, approaching her 18th birthday, CC stays to herself.
‘If a person wants a cat that looks a lot like their original pet,” Kraemer advises, “it’s probably best to go to the pound, especially if the desired cat is multi-colored. I’d like to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with somebody having their animal cloned. I have no objections to that, but there’s also a very excellent alternative and that’s adoption.
“Cloning is very useful for preservation of valuable genetics and genomes of both domestic animals and wildlife.”
And in the case of CC–whose name may stand for “copy” or “cloned” cat (Dr. Kraemer isn’t saying which, if either)—cloning gave Dewey and Shirley and all of College Station a beloved and precious family pet.