November 28, 2020

The Niche

Knoepfler lab stem cell blog

Imagine Cloning John Lennon From Old Molar

John Lennon Clone
John Lennon Clone?

There is a lot of talk about cloning celebrities so could we be seeing John Lennon again in the form of a clone?

If a Canadian dentist named Michael Zuk has his way, the late Beatle may be back.

In his quest to get back Lennon, Zuk reportedly purchased an old molar that once had its home in Lennon’s mouth even as he sang all those famous Beatles’ tunes.

At least this is according to the rock solid bastion of media factuality, The NY Daily News.

Zuk apparently shelled out 30 grand for the tooth.

Where did the tooth come from after all these years?

The seller was “the rock star’s former housekeeper’s son”.

So my first question, based on that dubious provenance, is how the heck do we know this tooth is the real deal?

Imagine going to all the trouble clone a human being from that tooth and it turns out to not be John Lennon at all, but say Nixon or something.

Talk about an “oops” moment.

Another question is what is motivating Zuk in this quest?

“He built up a fortune that he didn’t get to enjoy,” Zuk told the Daily News. “For someone else to end his life at age 40, bringing him back gives him a second chance almost.”

He didn’t have time to spend all his money? That makes no sense as a reason to clone someone. Speaking of money, it would likely take millions to even try to clone a human.

To be clear, I think it was a tragedy that Lennon was gunned down and I am positive he had so much more to give the world, but cloning him is not the answer. It wouldn’t be the answer for other amazing musicians that we have lost such as Hendrix, Morrison or Mozart for that matter.

Zuk believes the “science is almost there” to clone Lennon or any human being, but as a stem cell scientist who follows the cloning arena, I can say with some authority that actually it is not almost there…at least not based on an old tooth.

I myself am concerned about human cloning becoming a reality and the technology has advanced greatly making human cloning possible in the coming decade.

However, such cloning in the foreseeable future would depend on having access to healthy living cells from the human in question.

Cloning based on old degraded DNA, whether from ancient Woolly Mammoth bone marrow or Lennon’s rotten molar (as the Daily News calls it) or Neanderthal tissue or Dinosaur blood in a preserved mosquito in a piece of amber as in the movie Jurassic Park is not at all the same deal.

It would be orders of magnitude more technically challenging.

human cloning

We are not close to cloning a mammal of any kind absent living healthy cells today. For example, cloning of Dolly the sheep was entirely dependent on having an unlimited supply of her healthy living cells.

With just a bunch of fragmented DNA the first of many challenges would be getting an accurate full sequencing of Lennon genome (supposedly the “sequencing is already underway”) and then you’d have to remake it synthetically.

Even making a synthetic bacterium has not been achieved yet although Craig Venter is working hard on this.

There are also complicated ethical and moral issues. It might take 100 tries to make a seemingly healthy John Lennon. The other 99 might be a mixture of versions that die, suffer, and are deformed.

Even if one could clone Lennon, should we?

No, we shouldn’t because there is first of all no guarantee that he would be at all like Lennon. Also, all kinds of mutants and so-called “epi-mutations” in the epigenome would likely crop up, making the Lennon clone far from “Mother Nature’s Son”.

More broadly should we try to clone dead celebrities at all? Who wouldn’t want Einstein back, you might say. It is misguided again to think that clones would be the same as the original.

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