A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Spot the Clone!

daisy-cow-011416Hello again, viewers, and welcome back to America’s favorite quiz show: Spot the Clone! I’ll be your host as our contestants try to decide who the real clone is: the one with four legs or the one with two legs?

OK, Dan, who’s our first pair?

Here we go, Mike. First up this evening is a charming young lady we’ll call Daisy, one of the 100,000 cows who are going to be ‘created’ this year at the huge new Boyalife Genomics factory in China. And we also have the man who’s mass producing them: Boyalife founder Xiao-Chun Xu.

Mr. Xu says he wants to ramp up production to a million cows a year as quickly as possible so his company can satisfy the rising appetite for beef in China. And he’s planning to use the same technology to create champion racehorses and drug-sniffing dogs.

Thanks, Dan. OK, contestants, can you guess who’s the real clone: Daisy the cow or Mr. Xu the human? Press your buzzers now …

… Well, you all guessed Daisy, but the real clone is Mr. Xu. Even though he says that the cows at his factory are all identical, each of them is, in fact, a real individual with her own life and her own thoughts and emotions.


And while Mr. Xu thinks he’s one of a kind and a perfect example of human exceptionalism, that’s not really true. He’s mostly just the product of everything that’s been programmed into him since the day he was born, including the belief that he’s unique and exceptional.

Yes, Daisy may look like her sister cows at his factory, but she’s the real someone. OK, let’s move on to Round Two. Tell us about the next pair, Dan.

chance-shadow-clone-dogsHere’s the story, Mike. When a British couple wanted to bring back their deceased boxer dog, Dylan, they sent some of his DNA to Sooam Biotech in South Korea, along with $100,000.

Sooam has reportedly cloned 700 puppies since opening in 2004, and they’re cloning money hand-over-fist, too, promising people that death isn’t really forever and that they can get their beloved pet back, sort of.

So now the British couple have two new boxer puppies, Shadow and Chance, whose DNA comes from Dylan.

Thanks, Dan. And I gather that one of the chief researchers at Sooam, Dr. Hwang Woo-suk, has been in the news, too.

That’s right, Mike. Dr. Hwang isn’t quite what he looks like. In 2009 he was convicted of embezzling research funds and violating medical ethics. And then it turned out he’d also faked one of his studies and had lied when he said he’d produced human stem cells.

Wow, that’s quite a story, Dan. So now, contestants, it’s time to guess whether Shadow and Chance are the real clones, or is it Dr. Hwang? Press your buzzers now …

Very good, you’re catching on. While the pups do, indeed, have the same genetic make-up as Dylan, their personalities, their lives, their experiences, everything that makes them “them” from the very moment of conception is unique to each of them.

And you’ll be pleased to know that their family loves them dearly, even though they’re not Dylan and, frankly, the family would have been just as happy donating the $100,000 to their local shelter and adopting a dog from them.

Mr. Hwang, on the other hand, turns out to be anything but unique – nothing more than your typical crook, and just another fraud like all the other frauds in human history.

Who do we have next, Dan?

fourwhiteheifers-434P-2-3-4-6Check out these handsome Shorthorn heifers, Mike. They’re growing up in a field at the headquarters of Trans Ova Genetics in Sioux City, Iowa, where they’re known as 434-P-2, 3, 4 and 6.

And while they may all look the same, there’s a bunch of white-coated scientists just down the road at the lab who all look the same, too, all bent over their hi-tech microscopes and petri dishes all day, producing genetic copies of cows, pigs and horses for their bosses to sell all over the world.

Sounds like we’d all have hard time telling whether it’s the heifers or the scientists who are the real clones.

You’re right on the money there, Mike. And speaking of money, there’s an awful lot of it to be made in the cloning industry. Cloning animals for their meat and their milk is now permitted by the FDA. But it wouldn’t matter even if it wasn’t permitted since the descendants of cloned animals are not considered to be clones themselves, and it’s really hard to keep track of who’s who anyway.

No wonder the folks at Trans Ova are bullish on cloning cows. Back to you, Mike.

Thanks, Dan. And for our final round today, contestants, we want to introduce you to Dolly the sheep, who was the first animal ever to be successfully cloned. Tell us about her, Dan.

Dolly was born in Scotland in 1996, and it took 237 eggs, 30 failed embryos, and 13 suffering surrogate mothers to produce three lambs, of whom Dolly was the only one who survived.

She can’t be with us today, of course, because she only lived for six years and was so crippled by arthritis and lung disease that the scientists finally decided to put her out of her misery.

But before they killed her, the company that ‘created’ her took her DNA so they could keep copying her. And last year, almost two decades later, they applied for a U.S. patent, arguing that her clones are the “product of human ingenuity.”

That’s quite a story, Dan. So on this round, contestants, you have to guess: Did the company get a patent on Dolly’s DNA, or not? Press your buzzers now …

… Well done, everyone. You guessed right: they couldn’t patent her. That’s because a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that there was nothing “that suggests that the clones are distinct in any relevant way from the donor animals of which they are copies.” And that means that as far as the law is concerned, all of Dolly’s grandchildren might as well have come out of a copying machine. In fact, legally speaking, they did.

Enough about ewe, let’s talk about me.

And here’s a final thought: The night Dolly was born, in 1996, I remember watching the TV news, and it was overrun by a whole parade of people calling themselves “medical ethicists” and talking about the ethics of cloning. Whichever TV station you turned to, there was another one, and they were all saying the same thing: that we had entered a new era of science and we had to be very careful now because “it would be dangerous, if not unethical, to start cloning people.”

(No mention, of course, of whether it was ethical to clone a sheep. Enough about ewe, let’s talk about me.)

So you had to wonder whether it was actually Dolly who was the clone, or whether it was the parade of medical ethicists who were the clones. And today, they’re still talking about it being “dangerous, if not unethical” to clone humans. But no one’s even bothering to listen anymore because you can now clone a million cows a year at a factory in China, and all the buzz now is about “bringing back” extinct animals, including our early cousins, the Neanderthals.

So don’t be surprised when you hear that someone in a lab somewhere has finally produced the first human clone. At least he or she will be unique, if only for a while.

Thanks for watching, and join us again next week for another edition of Spot the Clone!