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BEATTS ME!

She Wants a Clone to Call Her Own

March 01, 1998|ANNE BEATTS | Anne Beatts is a freelance writer who lives in Hollywood

I'm very upset. It seems Dolly may have been a fraud. You remember Dolly, don't you? The cloned sheep who gave headline writers all around the world such a heyday this time last year? Now it seems that Dolly's cloning might be just another Scottish myth, like Brigadoon.

This past month at a geneticists' forum in Louisville, Ky.--no doubt purely coincidentally another geographical area famous for its production of fine sippin' whiskey--Scottish scientist Ian Wilmut, Dolly's honorary dad, admitted that he may have made a procedural mistake in cloning Dolly. And if so, boy, is his face red.

Dolly was cloned from a cell belonging to another sheep. That sheep was pregnant at the time, as so often happens with sheep. Therefore a fetal cell might easily have been present in its circulatory system. (I know this is advanced material, but stay with me and there'll be free Tootsie Pops for everyone who gets to the end of the column.)

That means there's a good chance Dolly may have been cloned from a fetal cell. Scientists have been able to clone mammals from fetal cells for the past two decades. Which makes Dolly no big deal. Just another face in the herd, so to speak.

Let me make it simple. So far, in our attempt to play God, we've gotten this far: We can take a sheep embryo and turn it into dozens of similar embryos. But we still have to wait for the little lambs to grow up before we know how they'll turn out. They could be the sweet docile creatures we all know and some of us love, or they could be the black sheep of the flock, with the personality and unfortunate personal habits of the late Chris Farley.

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Dolly originally held out the promise that someday soon we could take a single cell from an adult individual such as, say, for the purposes of argument, Demi Moore, and turn it into an embryo that would grow up exactly like Demi, only with her original breasts.

But alas, such is not to be. Yet. Although I'm sure Dr. Wilmut and his associates are working on it 'round the clock in a feverish attempt to play catch-up and redeem the honor of Scotland, which hasn't had such a black eye since Sean Connery went to live in Spain.

Some people are pleased by news of this setback in scientific progress, apparently including President Clinton, who banned federal funding for human cloning when it looked as if it could happen during his administration. I guess he has enough to worry about with cloned-bimbo eruptions, or maybe he once dated twins. On the other hand, Al Gore, science nut that he is, probably would be just fine with the idea of funds for cloning--speculation is rife around Washington that he actually is a clone.

I myself am devastated. Maybe it's because I had a birthday this week. (No gifts, please! Oh well, perhaps just some inexpensive tokens of your appreciation.) But I was just thinking how nice it would be to have a little clone. I could bring myself up all over again--and this time do it right, with no dysfunctional parents butting in and making someone wear a dumb coat over her princess costume on Halloween! I don't know what I'd call her. I was thinking maybe Joan Crawford Jr.

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My clone would look like a younger version of me, of course, and I could help her avoid some of my worst fashion errors, like those paisley patio pants I was so crazy about in the early '70s. I'd certainly urge her to eat more baked potatoes with butter and sour cream as long as she was under 30 and could just burn it off on the dance floor.

I know one thing--I'd never make her wait for contact lenses until her "eyes had grown." I guess she'd be stuck with my poor eyesight--unless Mom was right all along and it really is caused by reading in a bad light.

I'm afraid she'd have little or no musical talent, though I certainly wouldn't make her take those horrible human-torture tap dancing lessons every single Saturday morning when she'd much rather just stay in bed and read--OK, OK, in a good light this time. And if I had any other little clones, she'd never have to stay home and look after them when she absolutely needs to go to the beach with her friends.

My clone would never be very athletic but, on the upside, she'd be highly unlikely to ski downhill into a tree. She'd grow up to be a sensualist who loves fine food and wines, particularly when enjoyed on a beach in Tahiti. And she'd be able to stay up all night--oh, I forgot, this is the '90s.

She'd have all my best qualities, like empathy, intelligence, courage, verbal skill, stick-to-itiveness--some people call it stubbornness but it isn't really. It's just that when I'm right, I'm right. And my clone would be too. Just as long as she thought the same as me. Do you think they can guarantee that?

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