By Michael J. Katin, MD
Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair! -- Shelley
For at least the third time in the history of this column, a major news
item has required postponement of the planned topic. I would still like
to encourage patience among the thousands of readers that will have to keep
following this site to find out about the life of Dr. W.P., as promised
at the end of the January, 2003, column, let alone those waiting for A
Revolting Development, Part II, which hasn't made it since 2000. Possibly
in a parallel universe these have already been written, but not in this
one. I'm sure everyone would agree that no other topic would be appropriate
this month other than addressing the story of undoubtedly the most unique
and controversial personality of our era.
Actually, not Luther Brady, although a good guess. I'm actually referring
to the recently departed Dolly. I hope this is not the first time you've
learned that the world's first cloned sheep is no mas. She was put to sleep
in February, reportedly because of worsening problems with a lung condition
and having already been diagnosed last year with arthritis,
not anticipated in a 5 1/2 year old sheep. This raises the question, of
course, as to whether, when sheep are being put to sleep, do they count
humans......actually, not that one, but whether cloned organisms start de
novo or whether they are saddled with the baggage of the prevous generation.
The idea of saddle bags on a sheep is odd, but the question is whether we
can cheat fate by moving our nuclei around and maybe the answer is no.
I turns out that the average sheep lives 12 to 15 years, providing it avoids
becoming the guest of honor at an early bird special. Dolly was born July
5, 1996, having been constructed from a nucleus from an udder cell of
a Finn Dorset ewe, thus serving as the potential basis for at least 37 sheep
puns. In other words, was Dolly already burdened with the wear and tear
of 5 1/2 difficult sheep years before she was out of lambacy (lambhood?
lambdom?)? Did she avoid adolescent sheep activities, concentrating instead
on producing wool, breeding, and standing around doing nothing? Certainly
the whole enterprise was a gambol, but it had certainly been expected that
aging had not been so deeply embedded in the donor cell that it could not
be at least prolonged.
If this is true, it certainly puts a damper on a lot of potential plans
for cloning. As of now, you could get Fluffy or Fido cloned through a company
in Texas, the name of which will not be mentioned since it's too cute to
be tolerated, but is it worth it if you have a series of pets each lasting
a shorter period of time, when your miniature schnauzer only lasts a few
minutes and your Persian kitty becomes a Perishing kitty? Obviously cloning
Williams now becomes less interesting since the clones may not be around
long enough to get through Spring training.
The reality is that most accomplishments in life sciences are realized
only after a series of failed starts and accidental
breakthroughs. The story of Dolly should make us more tolerant of the
struggles we endure while trying to improve our techniques of treatment,
from hyperthermia to radiosensitizers to IMRT. We just need to not become
overly committed to any one project. We shouldn't take the risk of going
down with the sinking sheep.