February 5th, 2008
There has been a lot of talk lately about the FDA approval of cloning. I actually am fairly well informed on this issue as I used to be a medical researcher. I have a masters degree in biology from a pretty prestigious research university. I used to work in a genetics research lab, and I taught genetics at the undergraduate level. I was working in this environment when the first cow was cloned.
It’s interesting that at the time, scientists (in private) were raising a lot of concern about the viability of these animals. Reproduction is actually a very elegant system of checks and balances that allows many layers for correction if something were to go awry. These checks are removed in cloning. During the lifetime of an animal, their system (and genome) undergo a lifetime of assaults to their fidelity (mutations). This allows for variation and evolution over time. Reproducing with another animal who has also undergone a lifetime of assaults, allows those changes to be kept in balance. The likelihood of two animals having the exact same mutations is very unlikely. By combining their gene pools, the offspring is protected from the deleterious effects of these changes. Unfortunately, cloning bypasses this system. Newborn clones are born with a lifetime of genetic assaults intact. An analogy would be making a copy of a cassette tape. The first generation copy would have noticeably less fidelity but would still be audible. However, each subsequent generation would be more affected eventually resulting in white noise (remember poltergeist?).
My concern with cloning as an industrialized commodity would be that it allows a clone to fit neatly into patentable business models. Mass producing clones of cows which were genetically well-off – Super Cow lines, so to speak. Cloning hasn’t been around long enough to study the impact for several generations. We’re still studying the first generations of clones. It seems extremely irresponsible to me to be able to make the assessment that they are safe. Further, it clearly would not be profitable for a company to clone just one generation of Super Cows. Real money is made from mass production. Real money will be made from several generations of clones. From Super Cows to White Noise. This is what frightens me. People do not understand the implications (or don’t want to). By the time they do, a few handful of people will have become very wealthy while our food supply will be hopelessly inundated with these tainted animals.
In general, I’m not a very politically active soul. I don’t believe in politics. I’m a cynic you could say. I believe in having beliefs, but I think that once they become movements they turn into something else entirely. So, I tend to keep my thoughts about such things to myself.
However, I read this OP-ED piece today that I found really disturbing. It was clearly slanted and projected a general concern about the safety of cloned meat as being overreactive and ill-informed. It presented Jerry Greenfield’s (of Ben and Jerry’s) quote, ‘It’s just weird’ as the most compelling evidence to be concerned while eluding to possibilities of saving third world countries from starvation as arguments for. These are reasonably political stances to assume, but they are not based on any evidence or seemingly a very thorough understanding of the subject matter. Interestingly, that was what the author was accusing those concerned about cloning of.
My two cents, cloning is bad news. REALLY bad news. Unfortunately, I don’t have any money to make my argument more convincing. But the fact that the FDA is able to overlook something which is so glaringly obvious raises a lot of concerns with me. Just who is paying them after all?