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. Continue reading “Camels and Bulls and Bar Talk: cloning revisited”


Why we should clone a Neanderthal

Paul Raven @ 20-07-2010

Earlier in the year, there was some discussion over the possibility of cloning Neanderthals from archaeological remains. Now Kyle Munkittrick of Discover Magazine‘s Science Not Fiction blog speaks out in favour of the idea:

Knowing where Neanderthals fit, however, also creates a problem. What do we do if what makes humans “human” isn’t from a “human” at all? How do we justify “human rights” in light of evidence that our rational and moral minds are in no small part the result of prehistoric crossbreeding? In short: if human rights are based on being human, what rights would a cloned Neanderthal have?

The problem is, of course, that we don’t have a cloned Neanderthal. Which is why we need to make one.

[…]

To assert that the Neanderthal is between human and animal and is therefore an impossible fit for our world simply not true. The line between human and animal is blurred. Dolphins, whales, chimps, great apes, and other species are already changing the way we think about intelligence and rights; perhaps a Neanderthal, fully developed but so mentally different as to be incompatible with our way of living is the very example our society needs to change our perception of intelligent non-humans. When the technology is safe and the ability to nurture and care for her in place, we owe it to humanity as a whole to clone a Neanderthal and see what wonders she might teach us about ourselves.

There’s no simple answer, of course. Much as a cloned Neanderthal might teach us a great deal about ourselves, responsibility for his or her happiness and well-being would have to come first: to do otherwise would be to derail the essentially humanist thrust of Munkittrick’s argument. Human or not, a Neanderthal would be a sapient being, and quite likely more than capable of understanding that they were created for the sake of science… a lab rat that knew it was a lab rat, in other words. It’s a fascinating intellectual exercise to imagine how it might work out, but to actually do it?

All I can say is that as much as I’d love to learn how much of what we call being human is a cultural artefact as opposed to a biological phenomenon, I don’t know that I’d be able to take responsibility for the decision to create a living creature that might never feel it was living a life that made sense.


BOOK REVIEW: How To Defeat Your Own Clone by Kyle Kurpinski and Terry D Johnson

Paul Raven @ 21-06-2010

How To Defeat Your Own Clone by Kyle Kurpinski and Terry D JohnsonHow To Defeat Your Own Clone (and Other Tips For Surviving the Biotech Revolution by Kyle Kurpinski and Terry D Johnson

Bantam Books, February 2010; 180pp; US$14.00 RRP – ISBN13: 978-0533385786

If there’s one good thing that’s come out of the cultural opposition to science in the West, it’s a wave of new popular science media. The guiding principle seems to be “make it fun, give it a hook, deliver as much hard material as you can without provoking the gag reflex”, which goes some way to explain the popularity of science blogs – small chunks of science wrapped up in tasty and palatable context is a great format for lay readers with an interest in the topic, but without the specialist knowledge to follow the journal scene. Kurpinski and Johnson’s How To Defeat Your Own Clone is full of bloggy zing, and neatly skewers numerous pop-culture skiffy clichés – the scientifically-impossible clones of cinema and television – in order to entice the reader into a topic that promises to become increasingly controversial and pertinent in the coming years. Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: How To Defeat Your Own Clone by Kyle Kurpinski and Terry D Johnson”


NEW FICTION: OUT WALKING THE STREETS by Eric Del Carlo

Paul Raven @ 01-04-2010

After his excellent study of gender politics in “Fluidity” last autumn, Eric Del Carlo returns to Futurismic with another look at the unanswered yet imminent questions of posthuman identity. Short, sharp and timely – enjoy!

Out Walking The Streets

by Eric Del Carlo

I’m ravenous for sights and sensations, for the leathery creak of the seat beneath me, for the subtle reassuring hum in the metaplastic hull of the train car.  I feel the speed; I record in my mind the tug of force against my body, basic physical principles acting upon me at every moment.  It is new.  It is all worthy of my acute attention.

It is not new.  I am thirty-four years old, and the laws which oversee reality are as familiar–and discountable in day to day life–as the thump of blood in my veins.

I exert the effort not to make a spectacle of myself.  I’m hardly alone on the train, but no others, I feel sure, are as mesmerized by the cityscape streaming past both rows of windows.  I want to, but do not, press my nose to the clear ‘plastic and cry out at the pearlescent architectural wonder on display.  They’ve put me on this train, among regular people.  I’ve promised to control myself, and my promises have convinced those who needed convincing. Continue reading “NEW FICTION: OUT WALKING THE STREETS by Eric Del Carlo”


Should we clone Neanderthals?

Paul Raven @ 23-02-2010

It’s another hat-tip to Chairman Bruce for flagging up this thoughtful article on whether or not we should clone Neanderthals from their mapped DNA, though I’ve seen others link it since (slow on the uptake, that’s me). But note the thrust of the question: it’s not can we clone them, but should we? Some real sf-nal thinking going on in here:

Bernard Rollin, a bioethicist and professor of philosophy at Colorado State University, doesn’t believe that creating a Neanderthal clone would be an ethical problem in and of itself. The problem lies in how that individual would be treated by others. “I don’t think it is fair to put people…into a circumstance where they are going to be mocked and possibly feared,” he says, “and this is equally important, it’s not going to have a peer group. Given that humans are at some level social beings, it would be grossly unfair.” The sentiment was echoed by Stringer, “You would be bringing this Neanderthal back into a world it did not belong to….It doesn’t have its home environment anymore.”

There were no cities when the Neanderthals went extinct, and at their population’s peak there may have only been 10,000 of them spread across Europe. A cloned Neanderthal might be missing the genetic adaptations we have evolved to cope with the world’s greater population density, whatever those adaptations might be. But, not everyone agrees that Neanderthals were so different from modern humans that they would automatically be shunned as outcasts.

“I’m convinced that if one were to raise a Neanderthal in a modern human family he would function just like everybody else,” says Trenton Holliday, a paleoanthropologist at Tulane University. “I have no reason to doubt he could speak and do all the things that modern humans do.”

“I think there would be no question that if you cloned a Neanderthal, that individual would be recognized as having human rights under the Constitution and international treaties,” says Lori Andrews, a professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law. The law does not define what a human being is, but legal scholars are debating questions of human rights in cases involving genetic engineering. “This is a species-altering event,” says Andrews, “it changes the way we are creating a new generation.” How much does a human genome need to be changed before the individual created from it is no longer considered human?

Plenty of food for thought (and fuel for stories) there. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve already read a few stories with cloned and/or back-bred Neanderthals in them – anyone in the audience remember anything similar?

One thing’s for certain – a real Neanderthal would think those New Yorican ‘Paleolithic’ fad-diet hipsters were pretty lame.


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