The taxidermied Cumulina, the first mouse cloned from a non-reproductive cell (photo by Richard Strauss; courtesy Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History)

On May 5, 2000, the world’s first successfully cloned mouse died in her sleep of natural causes. She had reached the ripe old age of two years and seven months, about 95 in human years. Cumulina the mouse had lived a longer-than-average life.

Now her taxidermied body is moving from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC, as a new addition to the institution’s permanent collection. The museum has also acquired a set of Cumulina’s footprints, made on her second birthday.

Ryuzo Yanagimachi and Teruhiko Wakayama of the University of Hawai’i (UH) created Cumulina in a lab in 1997. She was the first mouse to be successfully cloned from a somatic, or non-reproductive, adult cell, like Dolly the Sheep, who was cloned a year earlier in 1996. Neither animal was the first of its kind to be cloned, but Cumulina was significant because she lived to adulthood and because cloning via a non-reproductive cell marked an impressive scientific achievement.

“Cloning from somatic cells requires adult cells to revert to the embryonic stage, allowing for implantation in a surrogate mother,” reads a Smithsonian statement on the acquisition.

Ryuzo Yanagimachi watches Cumulina get packed away for her cross-country trip. (photo courtesy University of Hawai’i John A. Burns School of Medicine)

Cumulina, named after the cumulus cells whose nuclei were used to clone her, was beloved by UH scientists. When she turned one and two, they held miniature birthday parties for her at the lab.

The historic mouse will now be held in the Smithsonian museum’s Medicine and Science Division.

“I’m happy that more people can see her than here. It’s very good for us and for Cumulina too,” Yanagimachi told Hawaii Public Radio.

Ryuzo Yanagimachi looks at the taxidermied Cumulina. (photo courtesy University of Hawai’i John A. Burns School of Medicine)
Photos from Cumulina’s first birthday party (image courtesy University of Hawai’i John A. Burns School of Medicine)

When Cumulina passed, Yanagimachi stored her body in a freezer, and a local high school teacher offered to preserve it by means of taxidermy. The result is Cumulina standing on her back legs and holding a tiny block of cheese in a glass dome display case.

Cloning technology and research have continued to advance in the last two decades. A major milestone was a 2013 clone of a human embryo used to make stem cells. Due to ethical concerns, however, the team of scientists did not allow the project to move forward. Outside of medicinal applications, cloning has also been used to increase the populations of endangered species. Last year, scientists cloned the first North American endangered animal: a black-footed ferret.

Cumulina in her display case (photo courtesy University of Hawai’i John A. Burns School of Medicine)

But cloning has also reached beyond medicine and environmental conservation. In 2015, a Texas company called ViaGen started offering pet cloning, charging $35,000 for a cat and $50,000 for a dog. A worker at the company said that they have cloned hundreds of pets so far.

In a press release, Smithsonian Museum of American History curator Kristen Frederick-Frost expressed her excitement at the acquisition of Cumulina.

“This tiny mouse will help our audiences explore complex topics, from the science of making copies of organisms to the ethics of doing so,” she said.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.