Campus Life

Texas A&M Researcher Who First Cloned Cat Dies At 66

Mark Westhusin oversaw the successful cloning of several animal species during his time as a professor at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
By Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications May 24, 2024

A graphic showing a headshot of Texas A&M professor Mark Westhusin over black and white images of his work, including shots of him in the lab, holding CC the cat, and posing next to a cloned calf.

 

Dr. Mark Westhusin, a Texas A&M University researcher responsible for historic advancements in the field of animal cloning, died Tuesday, May 21, at the age of 66.

A professor with Texas A&M’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (VMBS) for over three decades, Westhusin led a team of researchers within the Department of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology (VTPP) to create the world’s first genetic clones of a house cat and white-tailed deer. The former, nicknamed “Copy Cat,” or “CC” for short, became the subject of widespread public interest following her birth by a surrogate mother in December 2001. Her photo graced the pages of TIME and the story was reported in more than 200 other news publications, establishing Texas A&M as a world leader in genetic cloning research.

“To the entire VTPP family — all of us at A&M grieve with you,” said Texas A&M President Gen. (Ret.) Mark A. Welsh III. “We are so very sorry for the loss of your treasured faculty member and friend. Betty and I will keep Dr. Westhusin, his family, and all of you in our thoughts and prayers. My deepest condolences.”

Other clones to come out of Westhusin’s lab include genetic copies of cows and goats, with other VMBS teams successfully cloning pigs and horses. The Association of Former Students presented Westhusin with a Distinguished Achievement Award in 2015, noting that, “As a result of his and his colleagues’ efforts, Texas A&M is now recognized as having cloned more different animal species than any other institution in the world.”

An enduring symbol of Westhusin and his team’s success, Copy Cat was adopted by Westhusin’s colleague Dr. Duane Kraemer and lived to be 18 years old, even giving birth to kittens of her own.

“Cloning now is becoming so common, but it was incredible when it was beginning,” Westhusin recalled in 2020 following Copy Cat’s death. “Our work with CC was an important seed to plant to keep the science and the ideas and imagination moving forward.”

A native of Plainville, Kansas, Westhusin earned an undergraduate degree in animal sciences from Kansas State University in 1980 before completing his Ph.D. at Texas A&M. He authored or co-authored more than 160 academic publications, and his work has been cited thousands of times by his fellow researchers in the fields of genetics, reproductive science and biotechnology. In 2008, he was profiled as one of the “35 People Who Will Shape Our Future” by Texas Monthly.

Westhusin holds an array of academic and professional honors including the National Institutes of Health Director’s Award, the American Society of Animal Sciences Scholarship Award, Pfizer Research Award and Richard H. Davis Teaching Award.

“Mark was an extraordinary influence in many ways in our school and on campus, and his passing leaves a very painful void,” said VMBS Dean Dr. John August.

In an email to faculty and staff, VTPP Department Head Dr. Larry J. Suva said, “Words cannot describe how Dr. Westhusin will be missed by VTPP, our college and university. Mark was a leader as a scientist, professor, colleague and mentor. I am devastated to have to share this news to you. Please keep Mark’s family in your prayers.”

Services for Westhusin are scheduled for Friday, May 31, from 2 to 3 p.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bryan. Details here.

Texas A&M University provides counseling resources through the Employee Assistance Program for faculty and staff. 

Media contact: tamunews@tamu.edu

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