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Something To Gnaw On

So you may have been unaware, especially if you keep a garden compost pile out back, that the world had a shortage of rats. And that scientists have been desperately trying to clone them in labs in Missouri and France. Growing more rats might strike some as akin to developing a new strain of herpes, a potentially interesting project on paper, but why? The rat group spent years on 875 unsuccessful tries before successfully cloning Ralph and three other rats.

Cloning herpes is like cloning newspaper editors with an inflated sense of their own funniness.

On a more serious note, the premise of the criticism is the popular idea that cloning is about cheaply mass-producing organisms. Maybe I'm shortsighted, but I don't see that as being the practical application of cloning. If we needed more rats, the sensible thing to do would be to let them breed. Cloning, no matter how cheap and easy (at the moment it's very expensive and very hard) offers no improvement, in volume and time terms, over breeding. The clone still has to grow up from an embryo. What cloning offers is a way to ensure that the organisms you produce have certain genetic characteristics. So we hope that, for example, investing the money in cloning lab animals will allow us to weed out genetic differences that could complicate tests. The much-feared army of a million Hitlers is worrisome not because there are so many of them -- it would be much easier to recruit, or even breed, a genetically diverse army -- but because they would include Hitler's genes, which would presumably incline them to be genocidal maniacs.


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