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Is Cloning 100 percent Possible?
Brian Runciman
Where are we post-Dolly the sheep?


'Cloning: is 100% accuracy possible? is 100% accursssy posxxilnm!'
This really is the subject du jour, and the subject of the day. Where are we post-Dolly – the world’s first genetically engineered sheep?
How we’d like to know how Dolly (I) got along with Dolly (II – the return of the killer Dolly). What were the psychological implications for the ovine template of a younger, prettier, more energetic facsimile?
Could it be that the world of meeting-one’s-own-clone is not unlike the world of the Hollywood actress? As is clear from even a cursory glance at the history of cinema, actors can have a long and fruitful career: child actor to male lead to slightly older male lead to character actor. Actresses, on the other hand, seem to be marginalised with appearances only when young, vibrant and beautiful; and before they hit the age of 40 they are generally left festering in a seething cauldron of resentment, hatred and jealousy toward the next generation of the gorgeous. Was that how it was for Dolly?

Once a happy-go-lucky lamb, full of tender promise, graduating to stardom in the world in the murky world of genetics, then superseded by, horror of horrors, herself!
Imagine the damage that that could do to the already fragile thespian ego. Unfortunately, this couldn’t have happened to Dolly because she was cloned from frozen cells (the Dolly mixture); her ‘identical twin’ being already deceased. Plus, sheep are very poor actors.

Yet, there is something fundamentally gruesome about the idea of cloning. Perhaps you’ve read the book that explores the possibility of the rich having a secret stash of idiot-human clones who provide a ready store of spare parts for the over-adventurous skier or skydiver. Surgically produced and then maimed alter egos with no education, memory or life of their own, but kept in a state of optimum physical health to be called upon like a branch of Kwik-Fit when things go wrong.
Having seen pictures of a mouse with a human ear on its back this does not seem so far fetched. What next? A giraffe with human noses all the way up its neck? (My profit is in volume).

The growing of healthy organs for a library of transplantable bits may be a powerful argument for cloning. Ghastly experiments and mutations may be an argument against. The moral arguments are, of course, messy – and so are the processes – so perhaps I’d best avoid them by burying my genetically enhanced Ostrich’s head in the sand.

So from where did this Prometheus-like idea of the recreation of organs and/or whole creatures stem?
Apparently it all started with frogs in the 1970s – amphibians, not French people. It was discovered that certain cells from the stomach lining could be propagated to create autonomous creatures, but only up to tadpole stage. For a while it seemed that there was something special about frogs because cells for mammals could sometimes be induced to divide a few times but didn’t differentiate properly – the variety of cells for different parts of an animal’s body couldn’t be formed. In the 1980's some of these constraints were overcome, leading to Dolly. Recently there have been reports of embryos cloned from a rhesus monkey, which is a significant development in cloning technology as it involves primates – even more recently it has been reported that it is possible to clone a human being.

So, what of the human angle? Clearly work in this area has already been going on for some time, but researchers would have to get a considerable number of women willing to donate oocytes (don’t ask) for nuclear transfer and the use of an accommodating uterus to bring a clone to term.

The idea of an exact copy taking over someone’s life, though, is entirely fanciful. As is clear from the case of Dolly, the clone would still need a normal gestation and growth period, so already there would be an age differential. This could be overcome by cloning a baby, of course, or even the embryo itself, but that wouldn’t help unless the two were brought up in exactly the same way, exposed to the same mental, emotional and physical experiences and, in short, lived together. This is what happens to identical twins - which are classified as clones and are often almost indistinguishable - but as a tool of espionage it’s rather useless.

Then there’s copyright.
Imagine a forty-year-old man who plans for the future. He’s lonely, but he can provide warmth and affection for his old age. He buys a genetic sample from a trader, it’s illegal but, hey, he has money. His contact has got an envelope as licked by Cameron Diaz, his pet psychologist has a method of imprinting the lovely clone onto its (her) wealthy benefactor. By the time he’s in his late fifties he can settle down with the fawning girl of his dreams…
Another fairly repulsive thought….unless you’re forty and lonely.

Can’t be done? Interestingly, studies of identical twins show that environment plays a big part in the intelligence, mental acuity and emotional maturity of a subject. So, theoretically, you could breed a desirable physical specimen and dictate, in a limited way, aspects of its personality. Scary.
And so celebrities and the naturally gorgeous take care to copyright their reproducible genetic material. Soon we’ll get so we won’t want to brush our teeth for fear of leaving behind a viable genetic specimen. Or wash, cut our hair, trim our nails or leave the house.
So, rather than the Internet, it’s cloning that will produce an entire race of filthy, antisocial, hermits.
Nice.
© Brian Runciman November 2002
brunciman@hq.bcs.org.uk

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