Camels and Bulls and Bar Talk: cloning revisited

Brenda Cooper @ 25-08-2010

Two-million-dollar cloned camels running races in the desert with robot riders.  Makes you think of a science fiction story, huh?  But that’s happening now.  In an early version of this column, I wrote about the world’s first cloned camel, Injaz.  I thought I’d check up on Injaz, and I learned about the world’s second cloned camel, and the hope that Bin Soughan will be a racing sensation (see the Al Jazeera YouTube video on cloned camels for more of the story).

In case camels weren’t enough, we now have a cloned fighting bull. At the risk of observing the obvious, cloned racing camels and cloned fighting bulls are all pretty masculine activities.  This feels like cloning for profit and prowess rather than to make the world better.  I mean, what will we be cloning next at this rate? Quarterbacks?  David Beckham?

So that’s how I decided to re-visit cloning for this month’s column.

Just like camel cloning is evolving, I decided it was time to freshen up this column.  So for at least the next few months, I plan to revisit topics we’ve already touched on.  I’ll update the research, and then do some chatting about the possible results of advancements in the topic.  Then, I hope you will add to the discussion.  For the specific case above, Bin Soughan could be as fast as his parent, or faster.  The camel cloning operation could tune out to improve camel stock worldwide by introducing excellent new breeding stock into multiple lines of camel, or it could introduce an unseen weakness into other herds…

Ground rules

  • A pro from one viewpoint might be a con from another.  Don’t squash ideas, but feel free to counter them
  • This is partly about science fiction.  Not every idea has to be probable.  Just possible.
  • Science seldom operates in a vacuum.  Ideas that need more than one discipline go into the Science Blender (see the last section of today’s  column)
  • This isn’t primarily about the morals.  I fiercely believe in the value of that discussion.  But this isn’t that discussion.

Think of this as a polite, geeky bar discussion.

Pros and cons and possibilities of cloning humans and animals

Pros:

  1. We may be able to clone replacement organs.  My little brother has cancer that’s metastasized into his lungs and new lungs of his own could add years to his life.
  2. High quality meat animals could be cloned, improving the protein stocks of the world faster than current techniques.
  3. Forces could be equipped more easily.  Leaving armies aside, an exploration team for Mars could have interchangeable space suits and clothes and genetically tailored medicines.
  4. Extinct species might be brought back to life.
  5. Endangered species can have new breeding stock added.
  6. Advanced cloning capabilities allows an inter-system colony ship to carry DNA and cloning capability to a new place without having to carry and feed live people or animals. Or for that matter, allows a library to built here in a nuclear bunker.
  7. Cloned humans might provide a great control group for nature vs. nurture studies
  8. A corporate entity made up of multiple cloned humans could manage to have parts of itself work while other parts raise children or exercise.

Cons:

  1. A largely cloned population would have essentially no natural selection ability.  It wouldn’t evolve.
  2. Bad traits could be accidentally reinforced.
  3. A large group of clones (a lone army or exploration group) could be susceptible to designer diseases crafted just for them.
  4. Taken to an extreme, the need for heterosexual two-parent households could go away.  I’m all for alternative sexual and family choices (I make them), but we’d be giving up the backbone of our success as a species.
  5. Similarly, cloning for procreation reduces the need for sex.  But we’re wired for it.  This could be interesting.
  6. A largely cloned social group might be extremely bored.
  7. There will be a great temptation to patent or own the genetic stock of cloned animals or even people.
  8. The legal rights of clones are probably going to be very interesting to derive.

The Science Blender:  Questions as food for thought

Cloning and 3D printing: We know that we might be able to print organs soon.  Will they be clones from a donor, an open source design that inherits from the human it’s being used for, or platonic forms of organs?

Cloning and Genetic Engineering: What if we genetically engineer a new animal and clone it in a sterile form.  Could this produce fad pets pretty fast?

So…I know I’ve missed stuff and got some stuff wrong.  Carry on.  I’ll chime in from time to time. And let me know if you like this format.

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Brenda Cooper’s latest science fiction novel, Wings of Creation, is out now from Tor Books. For more information, see her website!

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One Response to “Camels and Bulls and Bar Talk: cloning revisited”

  1. Anthony says:

    Stacked up against your cons: a large group of clones of any mammal will eventually want to breed. If that is allowed, it will eventually reintroduce some diversity into the group, as genes get shuffled around, mutated, broken, patched, and rearranged. That may take hundreds of generations, however. I could see, amongst cloned humans, that the ‘different’ would have celebrity status. The one blue-eyed person in a bunch of brown eyed, might be considered a very desireable mate. Or not – that whole ‘Other’ thing could kick in. Hard to say, really, on the social aspects of that possibility.