Ever since cloning went from science fiction to reality with Dolly the sheep, movies, books and everyday speculation about cloning are all around us. I have sometimes wondered if I could get more work done if I were cloned. But would I really? Could science really create another “me?”
In the 1996 comedy Multiplicity, Michael Keaton found that it didn’t really work that way. He had himself cloned — so that he could get more work done, and be a better father and family man. In fact, he had himself cloned several times with unintended and humorous consequences. Several lines from that movie have made it into our vernacular, one being, “A copy of a copy is never as sharp as the original” One of Keaton’s clones is more sensitive, one more macho, one not as intelligent. Not one was an identical copy.
While the movie’s intent was humor, not science, the more we learn about the science of development and genetics, the more accurate it seems to be.
In 2001, Rainbow the cat, a full-grown animal was cloned. Her clone was called Cc (for Carbon copy) because it shared all Rainbow’s DNA, gene for gene. How then to explain that Rainbow is a calico with brown, tan, white and gold fur, while Cc is a white and gray tiger. Rainbow is plump; Cc is slender. Rainbow is quiet and calm; CC is curious and playful. Although they are genetically identical, the expression of those genes has not produced the same result.
Why does this happen? It happens because our development is not just nature and it is not nature plus nurture. It is simply not that simple. The way we develop depends on how our unique biological system responds to the interactions it has with our environment on a daily basis – it is termed GxE (Genes times Environment). Our surroundings matter – the temperature around us, the nutrients in our food, our friendships, choices, mistakes, memories all shape us. The genetic-environment interaction makes each of us truly individual. In fact, it is our amazing plasticity and adaptability that would keep a clone from actually being identical.
So, I think I will stop wishing I could be cloned to get more done. Chances are it would turn out like Multiplicity and my clone would be more trouble than help. The “other side of Sara” could be very scary!
To check out more about the amazing way our genes and environment interact in the dynamic process of who we are, I highly recommend The Genius in All of Us (Doubleday, 2010) by David Shenk.