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Double trouble with cloning

October 14, 2003|by TIM ROWLAND

Editor's note: Tim Rowland has been on vacation. In his absence, The Morning Herald is reprinting some of his previous columns. This column first appeared Feb. 26, 1997.




By now you know her: Mona-Lisa smile, nice eyes. Rather big ears, though. She's been on the front page of most every major newspaper in the country and answers to the name of Dolly.

To be honest, I was late to work and only got quick glances of the three most popular papers. And I thought "What in creation could a sheep have done to get its picture splashed all over the front page?" First sheep on the moon, maybe. Then I tuned in on the radio; I was a bit like Emily Latella: "What's all this I hear about cologned sheep?"

But the real story was even more remarkable. Scientists had done what was thought to be impossible: Cloned an adult mammal to create a genetically identical offspring.

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So how can they tell? Don't sheep, like, follow, anyway?

You could line 260 sheep in front of most people and I doubt they could tell one from the other ... (Note: If you insist on having some predictable, obligatory sheep joke in this column, you may insert your own here, such as ... except in some rural, highly mountainous areas ... but I refuse to stoop to that level myself).

I hope they ran a criminal background check on the sheep before cloning her. Our luck, she's the Sheep from Satan and we're on our way to a coven of cult-sheep intent on making wolves and the entire continent of New Zealand pay.

Better yet, with all this "identical" talk, wouldn't it be funny if they shaved away all that wool and found out Dolly really was a calf?

Always helpful, USA Today had a graphic showing how to clone sheep. As if that's something you would want to do. Which it might be. But not for sheep. Let's be honest, the only reason for cloning is to clone people, not some mindless, wool-producing quadruped.

Of course all scientists quoted in the papers hastily and emphatically stated that NO ONE could EVER think of ANY good reason for cloning people.

No? I'll toss out one: Elisabeth Shue.

Or Michael Jordan. Joe Montana retire? Never! At last we can discover who was better, Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali.

Mostly though, researchers have animals in mind. For example, if a hog has a particularly good set of chops, you just clone all the rest of your animals to be just like him. I find this even more scary than the human application. There's something terrifying about thinking that someday all the stockyards of the world may consist entirely of one pig.

What if this pig gets an attitude?

Seventy billion pigs worldwide suddenly struck with the same thought: "Must Kill Rosie O'Donnell. Must Kill Rosie O'Donnell."

OK, bad example.

But this IS really scary: According to USA Today, "the technique may soon allow pet owners to clone their favorite dog or cat."

Just what the world needs, two Garfields.

So cloning people may be the least of the evils. Still, scientists say they are aghast at the idea. "There is no clinical reason why you would (clone people)," said a leading bioethicist. "We think it would be ethically unacceptable and certainly would not want to be involved in that project."

Um-hm. And that noise you just heard is the sound of 30,000 scientists colliding as each tries to be the first out the door to place an ad in the Hunkmuffin Personal ads for Mel Gibson cutouts.

What I want to know, and what no one has answered, is if you were to clone a couple of people, would they have identical brains with identical thoughts?

That would spoil a lot of rock-paper-scissors games.

But as my analytical colleague Laura pointed out, it could settle the nature versus nurture debate. Raise one clone in a dirty ghetto with a single, drug-abusing mom, the other clone on a pristine farm with two loving Christian parents. Then if only one clone goes bad, becoming a thieving, raping, chainsaw-murdering outlaw, we'll know the answer:

Sheep shouldn't be raised in a ghetto.




Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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