A California firm that earlier this year launched the world’s first cat cloning service has announced its first sale: a cloned, male kitten named “Little Nicky.”

Genetic Savings & Clone — based in Sausalito, California, and financed by billionaire John Sperling — announced that it had sold the kitten to a Texas woman for $50,000.

The cloned kitten is a genetic twin of “Nicky,” a 17-year-old Maine Coone cat that had been kept as a pet by the woman until it died in September.

The client, identified only as “Julie,” asked that the company not fully identify her since she feared being targeted by groups opposed to cloning.

“According to our client, Julie, ‘Little Nicky,’ the clone, is identical to ‘Nicky,’ her former cat,” Ben Carlson, Vice-President of Genetic Savings & Clone, told NBC.

The Humane Society and other animal advocates have criticized pet cloning as potentially dangerous to the animals involved and wasteful, given the millions of dogs and cats that are destroyed each year in U.S. animal shelters.

Sperling, an Arizona entrepreneur who launched the for-profit University of Phoenix, underwrote the cloning of the first cat, CC, for Carbon Copy, who was born in 2001.

Genetic Savings & Clone runs a “PetBank” service allowing pet owners to send in a tissue sample for later cloning. The company says it expects to offer dog cloning in 2005. Sperling founded the company as part of a bid to clone his dog, Missy.

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