Man is not made of DNA alone

March 03, 1997|By Carl T. Rowan

WASHINGTON -- It's really sheeplike, this world-wide reaction to news that an embryologist in Scotland has used DNA from a sheep cell to produce a woolly clone named Dolly.

Some scientists worry that all our nursery rhymes will be rendered worthless by genetic manipulators who produce lambs with six legs and cows with three udders.

Everybody is expressing horror that the sheep cloners will soon be cloning human beings, and that our own Jurassic Park will be teeming with replicas of Adolf Hitler, O.J. Simpson, Dennis Rodman or even Ronald Reagan.

The first point to note is that, Dolly notwithstanding, scientists are a long way from cloning human beings. Mary Shelley's monster, ''Frankenstein,'' and Ira Levin's clone, ''der Fuehrer,'' are still fiction. So the frantic calls for laws to forbid cloning are not as urgent as we think.

The second point is that scientists will discover a way to clone human beings. And anything man can do man will do. Somebody XTC yearning for eternal life will clone himself, or perhaps make a copy of a lover a scientist wants to hold forever.

I can't say that human cloning won't turn out to be a disaster, but I can say that it will produce some colossal surprises.

Role of environment

What the cloners see is not what they will get! A scientist may get the DNA, the genes, the chromosomes and all the parts right, but he will never produce the total environment that made person X wise and beloved, or person Y monstrously repulsive.

Suppose someone did clone Ronald Reagan. Would the replica be the liberal, pacifist, pro-union New Deal Democrat Reagan of the 1940s, or the stridently right-wing Republican president of the 1980s? No embryologist could ever replicate the social, political and environmental forces that shaped those two Ronald Reagans.

What would anyone get cloning me if they did not give the new me my magnificent English teacher, Miss Bessie, and the wife I married almost 47 years ago? Man is not made of DNA alone!

It is stereotypical for people and pundits to see tragedy in huge leaps of science and technology. It is still plausible to question the morality of building nuclear weapons just because man knows how to produce explosions of mass destruction.

But I can make the argument that the United States and the Soviet Union would surely have gone to war over Berlin, Cuba, Vietnam or some other crisis had they both not had awesome nuclear arsenals. Thus, this ''nuclear stalemate'' may have produced the tiny measure of fear-based sanity that has given us a long period of relative peace.

So every scientific advance that portends disaster may bring something else to the human race.

Dolly may just let us clone the cows that give the most milk (from one udder), giving us cheaper dairy products, or the dairy industry higher profits, the latter being more likely. Or Dolly may have opened the door to genetic manipulations that provide cures for some killer diseases that are gene-related.

Whatever the future may hold, I say let the scientists be free of the shackles of our ignorant fears. Let's resist the cries for laws forbidding research into what we don't know.

And let's go on singing confidently to our lover, ''There will never, ever be another you.''

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 3/03/97

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