Doubts about allergy-free cats

Geneticas, a Los Angeles-based animal cloning-related company, has made some big claims since its founding in 2002.

By | January 31, 2005

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Geneticas, a Los Angeles-based animal cloning-related company, has made some big claims since its founding in 2002. CEO Simon Brodie says the company will produce a hypoallergenic cat based on RNAi by 2007, it will be able to announce in July that it has brought the cost of cloning a cat below $10,000, and it has commitments to a project that would have the company clone 75 horses at more than $1 million apiece. (For more on animal cloning, see p. 41.)

Another division of Geneticas has been set up to clone endangered species, starting with the clouded leopard, and yet another division wants to create glow-in-the-dark transgenic deer, which it hopes cars will less likely hit. The company reports it has taken hundreds of $250 deposits for the hypoallergenic cats, deposits that are "non-refundable whether or not a cat is ever produced or delivered," according to the agreement between the company and potential buyers. This policy prevails even if a lack of scientific development or legal restrictions makes production impossible.

All these claims have been made without the company having produced a single cat or horse clone, which makes some observers dubious. "It may or may not work," says Jorge Piedrahita of the College of Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. "RNAi can reduce the level of expression, but it is hard to completely abolish it. Also, it is hard to make transgenic animals that have stable RNAi expression. It works great in vitro but examples in vivo are far and few between."

Brodie won't say how many people work at the company; nor will he discuss the details of the methods the company plans to use. "We cannot reveal specific technology details, but the basis for cloning in animals is not too dissimilar between technologies, and the basic techniques involved in cloning remain the same," he says. As far as the horse-cloning project, it's "on our drawing board, and we hope to make a public announcement in the next few months."

Lou Hawthorne, CEO of rival Genetic Savings and Clone in Sausalito, Calif., has his own prediction about the next several months: "They'll be out of business by summer. I can virtually guarantee it."

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