Unsurprisingly the FDA has backed the sale of milk and meat from cloned animals. I can sort of understand the anti-technological reflex that would convince some people to be skeptical about this. God knows how many books, films, comic books and daytime soaps have found deeply disturbing uses for the act of replacing an adult’s DNA into a fertilized egg. But as a scientist who works in a related field the idea seems pretty unremarkable.
Some have argued that clones start with ‘adult’ DNA that shortens their lifespan and might cause other problems. This isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds. Each of our chromosomes is capped at both ends with protective telomeres which get smaller as we age, which means that clones may begin life with older, shorter telomeres. Even if true the worst I could imagine is that we would get ‘old’ steaks from young cows. Other problems might involve the drugs involved in bringing a cloned animal to term, but that would involve an entirely different approval process.
The real problem has less to do with safety than with common sense. First, if you have a herd of clones any virus that finds the weak point in one animal will have the run of the herd. Diversity protects against disease, and the less you have the better your chances of losing the whole lot. There is also the factor of how much you would pay for a cloned steak. Taking the per-animal costs into account a cloned t-bone ought to come out somewhere in the range of a used Audi. The process is getting more reasonable all the time, but in our lifetimes animal cloning will never be foodstuff cheap. Cloning probably won’t play that large a role in our foodstream but insofar as it does I have a hard time coming up with a reason why we should be worried about it.
A more interesting opinion is not the FDA’s but that of the NTRA. A competitive thoroughbred owner could easily fit cloning into his or her budget. Jersey Rules shut the door for now and given the primacy of breeders in the sport you have to figure that it will stay that way. Still, in that arena anyway cloning is or will soon be more an issue of policy than of practicality. Maybe it sounds clinical and a touch creepy, but the circusgoer in me wouldn’t mind seeing Secretariat, Man O’War, War Admiral, Seabiscuit and Smarty Jones lined up for a lap or two around the track.
I don’t know much about cloning but I do know a lot about genetically modified crops. Farmers routinely rotate seed and pesticides so they don’t run the risk of creating a vulnerabiilty to some sort of “super-germ.” I see no reason why folks in the meat industry wouldn’t be equally savvy.
I doubt the existence of cloning technology leads anyone to believe that from this day forward, every single steak will come from genetic duplicates of a single, magical animal.
As for sports, I think the issue is along the same lines as cyborgs playing football, which is to say, I think racers probably agree that the uncertainties of breeding are a fundamental part of the sport. There wouldn’t be a sport at all in a clone-based fantasyland where the guy who owns Secretariat’s DNA wins every single race.
Agreed. Since the cows are rarely raised, then slaughtered, based on age (instead, it’s based on weight), the telomere length is not an issue.
As for immunity, while the roots are genotypically-based, one’s immune system (as a whole) is also a product of the environment in which it is raised. However, assuming an entire herd of cloned cattle were all raised on the same farm, your virus concerns are valid.
I prefer meat from animals that died of natural causes.
That’s why I shop at Safeway.
Scientists can find anything they want to find if they just look at the data the right way (also called “slanting”). So fine, you eat all the cloned meat you want to. I have no desire to and I should not be forced to do so. Cloned meat must be clearly labeled, else I will reluctantly, at the twilight of my life, embrace vegetarianism. Yuk.
. . .instead of picking up roadkill on my way home from work. :-)
If I recall correctly, there were problems with Dolly the sheep’s reproductive capabilities. On NPR this morning there was mention of the possibility that cloning would remain too expensive to create entire herds of animals, but that clones of good animals might be used as studs. Have reproductive problems in cloning, if there really were any, been worked out while I wasn’t paying attention?
It’s hard to find good roadkill in the city any more. Too much traffic. All skin and bones by the time I get to it.
I like to throw a good Sailcat, sure, but that’s not food that can support my family.
By the way, Tim — get post title. Now I’ll spend the whole morning getting the earworm out of my head.
my every single gene is a hand-me-down…
I was about to ask how long he’s been waiting to use this post title…
yeah! the last i heard (around the time of the “we cloned a human and we’ll show you it any day now” hoax), the process supposedly produced a fair number of flawed copies, referred to as monsters. also when dolly was cloned, i recall some mention of how many failures/disasters/monstrosities occurred before the successful sheep was created.
can anyone provide a link to a summary of current large mammal cloning issues?
Just watch the movie “Aliens: Resurrection”
They do a pretty good job of hashing through the worst of it.
Helena, I think you’ll have to become a breatharian, or raise your own animals. Vegetarians (and others who eat plants) have been eating clones for centuries.
I am a little worried about Tim’s point that cloning may make our agricultural monocultures even more mono and thus increase the problems caused by animal diseases.
I dunno, the thought of eating cloned meat is a little creepy. Made even more so by this administration’s, the one that goes batshit crazy over stem cell research, embrace of it.
I’m smelling conspiracy. They want to put modified mad cow disease into that cloned shit. Turn us into a nation of Denny Craines like in Boston Legal. But dumber and without humor than Denny to make sure we vote Republican.
I think this is a case where there is no reason whatsoever to say no. Kind of like Plan B except without the insane people opposing it.
True, Tim, but less reason to say yes as well.
“but the circusgoer in me wouldn’t mind seeing Secretariat, Man O’War, War Admiral, Seabiscuit and Smarty Jones lined up for a lap or two around the track.”
But that wouldn’t be as cool as if they could form racehorse Voltron.