The Genesis Code

Case, John

Ballantine, 1997

pp. 400 - 401

“Think of DNA as a piano with a hundred thousand keys, and each of the keys is a genetic trait. In a differentiated cell most of the keys are covered. They’re off. They don’t work. But even so, a lot of the keys are still operational: with hair you’ve got curliness, pigmentation, thickness–like that. But that’s it. Everything else is off. And once it’s off, it’s off for good. . . . Once the DNA expresses a particular gene, there’s no going back. A nerve cell is a nerve cell. It can’t become a blood cell.” And nobody knows how a cell decides what it’s going to be. To clone, you remove the nucleus from an egg and replace it with a totipotent cell. Dolly the sheep was cloned in this way: Scottish scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh took a cell from Dolly and returned it to its totipotent stage, smaller than a freckle. If scientists could do this repeatedly and with humans, the mind boggles at the possibilities–most of which raise profound moral questions–e.g., digging up Beethoven, Custer, or Elvis, getting a bone cell and returning it to its totipotent stage, inserting it into an egg, and then you have one of them for your child. Or your own mother. Or yourself, to be cannibalized for replacement parts.” P. 401: “What happens to adoption when people can order copies of themselves–or anyone else–by mail? And when you combine cloning with recombinant DNA technology, it’s easy to imagine clones that aren’t quite human–fungible look-alikes, useful as cannon fodder, gladiators, or slaves. . . . and organ farms.” Disposable people. Not begotten, but made.