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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Does cloning really produce exact copies?: Not in cats, it doesn't

Richard Gordon, a prof at the University of Manitoba (Canada), who is interested in the way embryos develop according to the laws of physics - for the light it can shed on how life develops - directed my attention today to the fact that cloned cats do not resemble their moms.

This should be startling news to those who think that genes determine everything. (Yes, cloned sheep like Dolly certainly look and act like their penmates. But, see, ALL Polly Dorset sheep look and act like other Polly Dorset sheep. In common usage, the very word "sheep" implies that characteristic, whether the sheep is cloned or not.

To test genetic determinism, we need to study animals that can truly differ from their peers without having something wrong with them. Cats can look and act quite different from each other, and still be quite normal. We've all heard the old joke about herding cats as a metaphor for wasting time, right?)

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Rainbow the cat is a typical calico with splotches of brown, tan and gold on white. Cc, her clone, has a striped gray coat over white. Rainbow is reserved. Cc is curious and playful. Rainbow is chunky. Cc is sleek. Wayne Pacelle of the Humane Society might be inclined to say: I told you so. But then, so would cc's creators at Texas A&M University. Sure, you can clone your favorite cat. But the copy will not necessarily act or even look like the original.

Nacelle, speaking for the US Humane Society, argues essentially that if you want a cat like your dear departed Fluffy, the Humane society has lots to pick from. Sadly, in many places, they go up in smoke every day.

Experts say environment is as important as genes in determining a cat’s personality. And as far as appearance, having the same DNA as another calico cat doesn’t always produce the same coat pattern.

Okay, so it's goodnight for simple genetic determinism. But that pushes a question to the fore: If it's not all in the genes, where is the rest of it?

For anyone considering cloning their cat: Rather than spend thousands of US$ on an uncertain result from cloning, your best bet is to tour area shelters and find a cat that actually IS like Fluffy. It's easier than you think. While cats can be very different from each other, in terms of their appearance and behaviour, the differences range along fairly predictable spectra. Some are quiet, some are noisy. Some are aloof, some go nuts without you. But no cat runs for Parliament, converts to a cult, writes a scandalous novel, or decides to engineer your murder. You can indeed replace the characteristics you need in a cat without resorting to expensive and uncertain methods like cloning. And you will thereby spare a nice cat from being euthanized when it had many good years left.
If you like this blog, check out my award-winning book on the intelligent design controversy, By Design or by Chance?. You can read excerpts as well.

Are you looking for the following stories?

Stuart Pivar, a friend of the late Stephen Jay Gould, recently asked NCSE to change the wording of the statement for the Steve list - downplaying the role of natural selection in evolution, and spazzed out a lot of Darwinists. Pivar’s book advocating structuralism (biophysics) is to be reviewed in a science journal.

"Academic Freedom Watch : Here's the real, ugly story behind the claim that 'intelligent design isn't science'?".

Roseville, California, lawyer Larry Caldwell is suing over the use of tax money by Darwin lobby groups to promote religious views that accept Darwinian evolution (as opposed to ones that don’t). I’m pegging this one as the next big story. It will be interesting to see the line that the “separation of church and state” people take.
How to freak out your bio prof? What happened when a student bypassed the usual route of getting frogs drunk and dropping them down the chancellor’s robes, and tried questioning Darwinism instead.

Joseph, Cardinal Schonborn is not backing down from his contention that Darwinism is incompatible with Catholic faith, and Pope Benedict XVI probably thinks that’s just fine. Major US media have been trying to reach rewrite for months, with no success.

Museum tour guides to be trained to "respond" to those who question Darwinism. Read this item for an example of what at least one museum hopes to have them say.

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