Seeing Double Triple: cloning

Brenda Cooper @ 30-06-2009

Welcome to the second instalment of Today’s Tomorrows here at Futurismic. I am entirely too busy lately, and I could use at least ten more hours in every day… or maybe a copy of myself. So that’s the way I stalked this month’s topic: Cloning.

As usual, I’ll start off with current news, then I’ll talk about what I expect in the future, and go on to explore the topic in science fiction. Continue reading “Seeing Double Triple: cloning”


Framing cloning – the media and genetic science

Paul Raven @ 24-04-2009

mannequin clonesCloning stories are like buses; you wait for ages, then three come along at once. This has been one of those weeks, it appears, with the tale of yet another outsider scientist claiming to have successfully cloned a human being taking the lion’s share of the spotlight. [image by antmoose]

New Scientist takes a look at the way self-styled pioneers like Zavos court media attention for their activities, and calls them out as – at best – manipulative and misleading:

It doesn’t help that the latest coverage includes a picture of a little girl killed in a car crash – and whose cells were cloned through hybridisation purely for study – alongside a headline in the paper describing her as “The little girl who could ‘live’ again”.

This perpetuates the cruel myth and widespread misconception that cloning is a way of raising the dead. In fact, if it worked, it would simply be a way of creating an identical twin of whoever was cloned, but separated in time.

To some extent, science fiction can be blamed for misconceptions about cloning. The more serious and thoughtful books on the subject have been somewhat overshadowed by sensationalist TV and movie plots or the technophobia of writers in the Michael Crichton mould.

But that’s not for want of the facts being available; as the known sf geek in my local social circle, people ask me about topics like cloning quite a bit, and I try to give them the most realistic overview of the topic I can. It rarely works. The truth is not as compelling a story as a rogue-science thriller or a riff plucked out on the heart-strings. Perhaps I’m just not a good enough storyteller.

But hey – at least we get some cute headlines alongside the shock-horror stories and emotional grandstanding of hucksters. Look – glow-in-the-dark puppies!

All together now: aaaawwwww!


First clone of an extinct animal created

Paul Raven @ 19-02-2009

While plenty of endangered species have had the honour, the Pyrenean ibex has become the first completely extinct species to be cloned from banked genetic material. It didn’t last long, though:

“We are not especially disappointed for the death of the cloned newborn,” Folch explained in an email, because such deaths in cloning experiments are common.

“We will try to improve the technology in order to increase the efficiency of the cloning process.”

Inevitably, the hand of Michael Crichton reaches out beyond the grave and forces the biologists to reassure us that this isn’t the first step on the road to Jurassic Park. More pertinently, the cloned critter’s death (of respiratory failure) demonstrates that the technology for banging out copies of extinct species is far from perfected.

But it begs the question of which species we should attempt to bring back once we’re able – if any. What should the selection criteria be?


Cloning technique could bring species back from extinction

Tomas Martin @ 18-04-2008

This Northern White Rhino lives at San Diego ZooIt seems to be a week for biological-related stories here on Futurismic. Using skin cells from the nearly extinct Northern White Rhino, scientists can reprogram them back to an embryonic state, from which they can create sperm and eggs with the animal’s genes. An animal can then be created in vitro or through a surrogate mother from the Southern species of White Rhino. There are only 3 or 4 of the Northern variety left in the wild.

Professor Robert Millar, the director of the Medical Research Council’s Reproductive Sciences Unit at Edinburgh University, who is leading the study, said: “There are a lot of African animals under the threat of extinction. We want to protect their genomes, but you have to protect their habitats as well. This is one of the ways of dealing with the problem, especially when the animals get to such low numbers in the wild. It is a method we need to start to get into place as an insurance policy – it’s clearly do-able according to the laboratory work.”

This poses an extremely interesting moral dilemma. Is it worse to clone an animal or to let its species go extinct? And if the animal was cloned, does that make it a legal member of the species?

[via the Independent, Northern White Rhino in San Diego Zoo picture by Eliya]


I can haz bioluminesenz? Cloned red fluorescent cats

Paul Raven @ 14-12-2007

Bioluminescent-cats

It doesn’t get much more science fictional than this – South Korean scientists have genetically engineered white kittens that glow red under ultraviolet light. [Image cribbed from linked article]

Bioluminescent gene hackery isn’t a new idea – MetaFilter has the links for the history, starting way back (!) in 1994 with E. coli and roundworm cells – but this is a new level in cute for genetic science.

[tags]genetics, cloning, cats, bioluminescence[/tags]

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