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October 16th, 2012 / 3:23 pm
Massive People

DIED: Keith Campbell

On October 5, Keith Campbell—one of the scientists who worked on Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from an adult cell—died at the age of 58.

Adult cells have specialized jobs. They make one thing—skin, for example. Embryonic cells are not specialized. So, making an entire body from an embryonic cell is relatively easy. Making an entire body from a specialized cell is not. Campbell suggested trying to find a way to get adult cells to revert, to forget their specialization. Starving the adult cell did the trick. Dolly followed.

Some people call cloning “playing God.” Mostly, those people are talking about human cloning, not animal cloning.

But, still, Dolly caused a stir. And accusations of playing god.

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Dolly the sheep lived six years and was euthanized because of arthritis and lung disease. Her breed, the Finnish Dorset, lives an average of 11 to 12 years. So, she lived about 50% of the life she should have.

The average lifespan of a British male is 78 years. So, Campbell lived about 75% of the life he should have. His cause of death has not been announced, but if it was a natural death, it might be fair to say that God did a 25% better job of playing God when he created Keith Campbell than Campbell did when he created Dolly the sheep.

In Campbell’s defense, God has had a lot more practice.

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(I tried to come up with a list of actors who have played God without doing any internet research. This is all I got: George Burns, Morgan Freeman, Alanis Morrissette, Groucho Marx, Graham Chapman, and Harry Shearer. IMDB lists hundreds more. Some are from TV, though. Except for Shearer—who plays God on The Simpsons—I was thinking movies.)

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I recently lost a beloved pet (DIED to come, maybe). Yesterday I put on a pair of pants, reached into a pocket, and found that I had, for some reason, placed a small non-stick pad from my cat’s bandages in it. The pad had little rust-colored dried blood spots on it. Seeing it, my first thought was “Cloning?”

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Of all the science fiction subgenres, I think cloning stories are the ones I find the creepiest. I think the possibility of a physical copy, a nearly identical me who nonetheless has an independently formed, unique brain, is very creepy.

I also think I find cloning creepy because it happens in laboratories. Sterility is incredibly creepy.

Dolly, though made in a lab, lived on a farm. Hay. Manure. Other stinking, eating, sleeping, rutting animals. Seems less creepy.

Also, Dolly was named after Dolly Parton, and Dolly Parton is, for me, a calming presence. Association with Dolly Parton assuages my cloning-related discomfort.

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