MANILA, September 13, 2005
 (STAR) By Maria Isabel Garcia - These days, it is not enough that one is a clone in order to make it to science news. Since 1996, many clones have been produced by scientists – sheep, mice, chicken, pigs, cows. It does not even have to be just clones of whole animals but just plain body parts like what they do in stem cell research. But to be an offspring of clones, that’s novel, at least for now.

The BBC reported last week that the Audubon Research Center for Research of Endangered Species in the US has announced that two female African wildcat clones, Madge and Catty (cloned from Nancy), were bred with a one male clone named Ditteaux, (cloned from Jazz). The three clones are now the parents of eight kittens (four each from Madge and Catty). I would not volunteer to be the genealogist for this case since it will be bewildering to lay out the family tree for this cat clan since they would now have to include clones and "originals."

The cloning of animals is not new, but most has been done on domestic ones such as dogs, cats, pigs, chicken and mice. The cloning of wild animals poses a special meaning to conservation as some say it can save some of these animals from extinction. So far, the wild animals that have been cloned include Dolly, the sheep (1996), a wild ox and mouflon lamb (2001) and a threatened Javanese cattle (2003). The destruction of habitats around the world has been the major threat to animals living in the wild and some conservationists think that cloning wild animals is one solution. The African wildcat (Felis libyca) is not endangered but conservationists say that it is a good model to experiment on in breeding wild animals.

However, some conservation biologists think that cloning or breeding clones is not the entire solution and I agree with them more. In other words, it is not the whole story. The "wildness" should not just be within the clones but should also be exhibited by the clones. This means that they would have to exhibit that as clones so they would be able to survive in the wild, in the same habitats as their wild non-clone counterparts. As natural inhabitants of the habitats they thrive in, they play a role in the health of those ecosystems. But what if after a few years, these clones demonstrate that they are capable of being the exact replicas of their non-clone breeds? Will we now be more liberal in eliminating the populations of wild habitats thinking we can clone them anyway? Will we feel more licensed in encroaching on wildlands in order to accommodate the world’s human population? Technology, indeed, does help us solve many of our problems but I think the value of the wild means more than just scientific assurance that we can have faithful photocopies of creatures whose homes we destroy for our own purposes.

Speaking of technology and animals, recent science news also says it may not be long before our restaurant menu includes "lab-grown meat." I am not talking about meat from cows grown in the lab but meat that starts and ends as meat, in the lab. The idea was first laid out in the journal Tissue Engineering last May by Jason Matheny of the University of Maryland and some initial experiment on chicken is being done in the Medical University of South Carolina by Vladimir Mironov. The feature is also reported in the September issue of the Scientific American. The ingredients and process may not be appetizing even to card-bearing carnivores. It involves "myoblasts" and "myosattelite cells," known to be what muscles are before they are the fibers that they become. These will be taken from a member of the worthy animals chosen to volunteer their cells for this so it can be a cow, chicken, lamb or pig or whatever else humans have taken a liking to when it comes to their meat. These pre-muscle ingredients will then be grown on small collagen beads that swell when heated which should induce them to fuse and form muscle fibers. But do not get your hopes up (yeah, right, we can’t wait) since they are far from serving us our fillet mignons and rib-eyes yet. Skeletal muscle and some initial experiment on chicken meat are all that’s yet on the grill, so to speak.

It will really be a brave new world down the line if cloning and meat-growing in labs really push on. It will be like looking at a mirror but seeing only parts that you want to see, for their usefulness or their beauty, for their taste or for whatever else humans invoke as a reason. Like being in a hall of mirrors, the world of cloning creatures may confuse us as to which direction we should take, but at the same time, it could also provide us many-faceted images of ourselves and of our world that are part of the mystery of being here. I think the next generation will be the one to face these things in more real terms. They will be able to tell us whether the Sierra Madre remains the grandeur that it is even with its cloned fauna or that tinolang manok will still taste the same even when the meat used is not from a real chicken that had all its body parts growing together to form a live chicken. I certainly hope they will stop at a spot in the hall of mirrors and find a way to drop us a note.

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