MAD DOG: Send In the Clones

Just when you thought modern science had discovered everything worth finding, along comes news that makes you want to take your money out of mutual funds and invest it in lab coat futures. As if the Ab Roller, Windows 95, and no-fat chocolately almost fudge-like cookies that taste like sawdust weren't enough, scientists have successfully produced the world's first clone.A clone, you might remember if you haven't blocked out high school biology, is an artificially produced, genetically identical copy of a living thing. Kind of a Xerox copy that breathes. A clone looks, sounds, feels and for all intents and purposes is exactly like the original. This is the same concept behind movie sequels and network TV programming except Sylvester Stallone and Ted Danson don't make $15 million per sheep clone.That's right. After much soul searching -- and eliminating such potential duplication candidates as dogs, head lice and Dennis Rodman -- Ian Wilmut and his team of copycats decided the first clone ever created should be a sheep. This wasn't, as you might think, so they could have the perfect lamb chop, the world's fuzziest wool sweater, or twins sitting at the dais at their next bachelor party. The truth is, being Scottish scientists, they were trying to create the perfect haggis.Haggis, for those of you who have never been brave enough to eat a dish made from the heart, liver, and lungs of a sheep, is a traditional Scottish dish which is as disgusting as its name. Knowing that minced sheep innards is a little too similar to America's favorite dish, the hot dog, the wise Scots disguise it with suet, onions, oatmeal and, if it's a holiday, a handful of fresh maggots. Then they boil it in the sheep's stomach, hopefully after it's dead.The details of exactly how these scientists produced the first clone is a little too technical to go into here. Basically they took a single cell from the mammary of a sheep, made it go dormant, and inserted it into an unfertilized egg cell while sacrificing a white chicken during the waning moon. This produced an embryo, a lot of publicity and, they hope, a Nobel Prize.It's also raised more ethical questions than Newt Gingrich with his hand out. Is it morally right for scientists to create a master race of woolly mammals that bleat and eat grass? If they're an exact copy made from the same cell, does that make them their own parent, and if so, do they have to move to West Virginia where that sort of thing is not only allowed but encouraged? And if it works on sheep should we try it on humans?This last question is especially thorny, since apparently there are no laws forbidding human cloning in the United States. Some European countries ban it, probably out of the realization that one Gerard Depardieu is enough. And while our federal government has a strict policy prohibiting government funds from being spent on such experiments, there's no reason a private clinic couldn't make a duplicate of you if you really wanted such a thing.The problem is the possibility of trying to improve on the species. Like this would be difficult. For starters you could design men with remotes built into their hand or maybe make them taller. The latter would be more than just an excuse to create the Wet Dream Team in the 2016 Olympics, it would be a matter of national pride. Until recently American men were the tallest in the world, but now researchers say Norwegian and Dutch men are, on the average, 3 centimeters taller. Needless to say, this is terribly embarrassing, though admittedly not as embarrassing as eating Lutefisk or wearing wooden shoes to the prom.As long as we're breeding taller men we should also make them less clumsy. This would not only promote less breakage in antique shops but also better mental health. According to the American Psychiatric Association's newly updated "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders," known among insomniacs as Sleep-eez, clumsiness is now classified as a mental disorder right alongside schizophrenia, depression, and doing the Macarena.Interestingly, though, the A.P.A. doesn't consider performing self-surgery to be a psychiatric disorder, which is a good thing for Peter Goss, the sailor in a recent round-the-world yacht race who cut his arm open to repair an inflamed tendon using a fax from a French doctor as his step-by-step instructions. Not only should that be in the A.P.A.'s next book, but it's definitely not a trait we should perpetuate.But before you start thinking that cloning is such a great idea remember, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll always get an exact duplicate of the original. While the clone may be physically identical, its brain development will be quite different since it would have entirely different experiences to build on. Thus a clone of Saddam Hussein might turn out to take Mother Theresa's place and Ted Koppel's clone might have a sense of humor, though thanks to genetics he'd still be stuck with hair that looks like a toupee.So now you have a lot to think about while you're sitting in the waiting room of the You'll Never Walk a Clone duplication clinic reading a three year-old copy of Family Circle with the coupons torn out waiting for the nurse to call your name. If you don't go through with it, the only place future generations will see your face is in photographs. If you do, you'll truly understand the feeling of being beside yourself with joy. Literally.


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