Cellular Memory

My fascination with cloning borders on the morbid. It’s akin to my terrible habit of looking up my symptoms on WebMD and diagnosing myself with meningitis. The ‘what if’ factor is just that extreme. I’m not alone, however. Cloning is the subject of much fascination, in fiction, television, and political debate.

Why do we find the idea of replicated humans so…creepy?

I think expectation plays a large role. As a whole, human beings are not fond of change. New science is often regarded with suspicion. It’s all dark magic until it becomes an indispensable part of our lives. Techniques such as artificial insemination are still considered immoral and unnatural by many, even though the term ‘test tube baby’ is no longer much of a slur.

Photo credit: Marnix Bras (freeimages.com)
Photo credit: Marnix Bras (freeimages.com)

But creating a whole human from a skin sample? It’s fascinating and scary. Fascinating because—wow, we can do this? Yeah, we can. Someone, somewhere, is cloning someone. They’ll be doing it to prove they can, because someone paid them to do it, in defiance of prevailing attitudes and laws, and because part of being human is exploration. Most of us are born with the need to see what’s over there, on top of that, and off the edge of the map.

Who they’re cloning, and why, is the scary part. I think the biggest question about clones, however, is identity. Who will they be? Kelly v2.0 or Kelly (July 21)—assuming my clone is born today. Or, will the new Kelly actually be dated from the skin sample (or cells) used to create her?

I was reading an article in Vanity Fair (August 2015, “Game of Clones”) about cloning polo ponies. The first page had a picture of a beautiful horse—and yet I couldn’t look at it without feeling slightly uneasy. The article is fascinating and when it lands on vanityfair.com you should check it out. The most interesting aspect, however, was the idea of cellular memory. The breeders noted that cloned foals seem more self-aware from a younger age. For instance, they can’t be kept with the other foals because they might try to fight or mate them—well before the age where hormonal behavior should become apparent. Another cloned horse is as afraid of garden hoses as her original.

These instances (and more) are cited as part of the reason this particular operation will not consider human cloning, despite having been approached by determined and wealthy individuals. Think of the implications of cellular memory in a newborn:

“Can you imagine having a baby that is born with memories of extreme happiness or extreme sadness? I think what you may do is have a child that is born insane because it cannot process what’s up there”…

(Alan Meeker, “Game of Clones”. Vanity Fair, August 2015)

Sobering thoughts, eh?

In a light-hearted example, Kelly 2.0 might have the memory of many, many stupid accidents. Kelly 1.0 is clumsy. Will this make my clone more or less careful? Will the memory (or not) of a few concussions (yes, really) prompt her to never leave her crib. Ever?

OrphanBlackI’d rather not examine my mental foibles and what they could mean for a just-conceived version of me. I think that’s something we can all ponder on our own—and the process might be similar to looking up our symptoms online. Imprecise and frightening. Or, we could read a book (“Send in the Clones!” Tor.com, July 7), or hit up Netflix for past episodes of Orphan Black. Perhaps really scare ourselves with The Boys from Brazil. Ninety-four clones of Hitler, anyone?

It’s interesting to note that clone stories are almost universally cautionary tales or simply tragic. Of more personal interest is the fact I’ve read over half of Tor.com’s list of thirteen books about clones. I must really like scaring myself—it’s the concussions, I know. Kate Wilhelm’s Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang is one of those books that has haunted me since I read it, some thirty-five years ago. And thhough John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War does have fun with cloning, the essential message remains the same: who are these people, and what rights do they have?

The clone story that will always stay with me, though, like a bur under my skin, is Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The book saddened me, the movie adaptation wrecked me. I think if ever there is an argument against cloning, that story is it. But, as I said before, we are explorers, and if we can think it, we will do it. Someone is already doing it—and they might be living in the United States, because while seventy countries have outlawed human cloning, it’s still legal here.

It’s not all bad. Cloned organs are saving lives. I don’t think I need to spell out the significance of that, however. Someone really needs to write a good, positive cloning story. If you’ve got one, or heard of one, I’d love to hear about it. 🙂

(Featured image for this post was sourced from freeimages.com and is credited to Flavio Takemoto)

 

2 thoughts on “Cellular Memory

  1. eileengriffin77 July 21, 2015 / 1:22 pm

    Reblogged this on eileengriffin and commented:
    Excellent post on the fascinating and terrifying implications of cloning.

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