Clone Again (Naturally)

Sorry, that was a terrible pun, and a pun on a Gilbert O’Sullivan song, and his name was a pun too. Sometimes I just can’t resist.

News today of another leap forward in genetic science. Japanese experimenters have, at no little price, managed to clone some mice from the nucleus of another mouse: which wouldn’t be news in this age of weird discoveries, were it not that the original mouse had been dead for sixteen years, since when it has been frozen at minus 40 degrees Celsius.

What, it has already been aked, what was the point? Do we need more mice? I think not. Did the original mouse wish to be resuscitated in some form? No – in fact, the less we ask about the manner of its passing, the better: it’s a fair wager that it didn’t turn up its whiskers after a happy few years in an unharvested field. So what answer have the boffins given?

Here it is: they hope to be able to bring back long-extinct animals. The woolly mammoth (I am not sure if there is an unwoolly variety, so there may be some tautology there) and the sabre-toothed, bad-tempered tiger are just two which have sprung to the great minds. Presumably the pterodactyl, the raptor, and the unicorn will be high on the wish-list as well. And the dodo. Why? Why do we need to regenerate animals which copped it millions of years ago? Are we feeling that guilty (the dodo seems to have been our fault)? That inquisitive – even after all those lost world films, in which the aboriginal creature, far from being grateful, has a habit of using humans as afternoon snacks?

No, that’s not what they’re doing, is it. They’re hoping to clone humans. They’ll do a few salamanders and great auks, just to feed – did I say ‘feed’? sorry, meant titivate – our sentimental side, the same side that wants to preserve even the most ruinous of houses, including the House of Windsor, and would slap a preservation order on the M42 if it could. They’ll hit us with the heritage trails. And then they’ll get round to the real business – adding some odd extras to the world, which is of course not bursting at the seams, not struggling to make the small supply of food go round. Koestler’s The Ghost In The Machine, to which I was addicted as a teenager, foresaw the exponential growth of people, and spotted that there was a parallel, exponential growth in nuclear warheads. Like leaving a child in a room full of gunpowder with a box of matches, he said. He is still right.

So why are we cloning, again? Because we hope to outrun each other, live longer, live forever. That will be bad news for the gravediggers, terrible for the funeral business, and, worse, make it impossible to get round the shops – or even to the shops. I expect there are some rich ex-people who have been frozen, in the hope that one day someone would crack the system, and revive them (an allegation unfairly levelled at Walt Disney, by the way, who was politely cremated).

I think, if they are going to start anywhere, they should do it with holy relics. There are many thousands of fingers, toes, and perhaps other pieces in between, which are stashed in display cabinets in churches across the world (I am not sure if only Christians do this – although there is certainly enough of Tutankhamun and Lenin to add them in, for interest). Up will pop a great many saints (actually, doesn’t Revelation say this will happen?), or perhaps not. Perhaps up will pop a lot of very ordinary people whose bones were nicked and passed off as saintly. ‘Hello, thank you, where am I? St. Who? No, no, no, I’m Watkin the Builder’s Mate, 1300, guv. Got any spare groats?’

Alternatively, and this is my last word on the subject, we could clone fictional characters. ‘Heathcliff, all right old son? Just to ask, was Cathy a ghost, only we have to do an essay on you by Tuesday…’ ‘Lear! Welcome back! Were you more sinned against than sinning? Yes; no; maybe? I’d be most grateful. Oh? No you were invented by William Shakespeare. William! Come here and explain yourself! What were your themes?’

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