Cloning John Lennon

Some say Michael Zuk is a dreamer. 

The Canadian dentist says he’s sent John Lennon’s rotten molar to Penn State University in hopes of extracting the legendary musician’s DNA. in order to bring him back to life.

Lennon reportedly gave the tooth to a housekeeper in the 1960s. Zuk bought the tooth at auction for about $30,000 in 2011 and now plans on trying to clone Lennon.

“You cannot do any better than bringing back someone who was taken from this world too early,” Zuk told The New York Daily News.

While it is possible to extract human DNA from teeth, there are many hurdles to overcome before Lennon can once again walk down Abbey Road.

How Close Are We to Human Cloning?

The world was abuzz with wonder in 1996 when Scottish scientists successfully cloned a sheep and named her Dolly. It was a feat for humans, but it had its share of problems. While typical Finnish Dorset sheep have a life expectancy of 12 years, Dolly was euthanized at the age of six due to severe arthritis and a progressive lung disease.

Since Dolly, many other stock animals—including horses, pigs, and cows—have been cloned. It’s so common that a Texas jury ruled the American Quarter Horse Association cannot ban cloned horses from their registry.

In May, biologists from the U.S. and Thailand announced they had created the first cloned human embryo by reprogramming human skin cells into embryonic stem cells, which are able to develop into any other type of cell in the human body.

They used a similar technique to the one that made Dolly, but even they said it’s highly unlikely the embryo would ever develop into a human.

Currently, there are no federal laws in the U.S. banning human cloning, but 13 states ban reproductive cloning, the type that would create humans. Therapeutic cloning, however, deals with cloning human cells for transplant or medical uses and is an active field of scientific research.

DNA a Musician Does Not Make

Even if Zuk could create a baby who was an exact genetic match with Lennon, the Beatle would not necessarily jump back on stage with Paul McCartney.

While genetics can dictate the color of our skin, hair, and eyes, it doesn’t tell us specifically who we are and what we’ll do with our lives, especially which musical instruments we’ll learn or what lyrics we’ll write.  

As scientists continue to pore over the complicated reality of being human, they’re discovering with more certainty that humans are a stewing mix of nature and nurture. From childhood on, our interactions with the world around us have an effect on our personalities, abilities, and aspirations.

While research has shown that some people may have a genetic predisposition to creativity, this  doesn’t mean they will use it. Even identical twins develop their own personalities and talents despite coming from the same zygote.

In the case of bringing Lennon back as he was before he met Mark David Chapman, you’d also have to re-create his troubled relationship with his father, raise him Anglican, send him to primary school, and remake the millions of other experiences Lennon went through step-by-step to end up with the same person. To do that is not entirely impossible, but it is highly improbable.

You may say Zuk’s a dreamer, but he’s not the only one.

Photo of John Lennon courtesy of Roy Kerwood via WikiCommons.

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