…to create another John Lennon.
Surely by now you’ve read the story about the dentist who bought John Lennon’s decayed molar at auction and now plans to extract DNA from it and clone the late, great Beatle. You’ve seen the clever headlines (the best of which was from Sharon Hill: Just Like Starting Over, With Another John Lennon), and the lame attempts at humor (admittedly I’m guilty of this):
— I’m fixing a hole where decay gets in…
— I wanna clone your hand…
— You should see Polydent Pam…
— I cloned a tooth today, oh boy…
I’m here all week. Tip your waitress.
Yes, I know I’m behind the curve on this story, as it jumped the shark last week. However, as a dentist I feel it is my odontological duty to cobble together at least a half-assed blog post so that I don’t have to go stand by myself in shame at blog author parties. So here goes.
To summarize, in 2011 a Canadian dentist named Michael Zuk purchased one of John Lennon’s extracted teeth for around $31,200. By the looks of it, it needed to come out- a huge carious lesion (cavity) encompassed almost half of the tooth.
While perhaps a bit eccentric and macabre, a dentist wanting to own a tooth that used to belong to perhaps the most famous rock musician in history is not that unthinkable; heck, I’d take it in a heartbeat. In fact, if I owned Lennon’s tooth, I’d parade it around like it was the fricking Magna Carta. But where it gets weird is that Dr. Zuk now has plans to extract the DNA from the molar and attempt to clone a brand-spanking-new John Lennon.
“I am nervous and excited at the possibility that we will be able to fully sequence John Lennon’s DNA, very soon I hope,” Zuk said in a statement on his John Lennon Tooth site. “With researchers working on ways to clone mammoths, the same technology certainly could make human cloning a reality.”
(Editors note: John’s hair style in the mid-1960s when this tooth was extracted resembled a wooly mammoth’s. Coincidence?)
OK, let’s get this out right at the beginning of the post so as not to create confusion or give Dr. Zuk more scientific credibility than he deserves. This is a publicity stunt, pure and simple. I’m sure Dr. Zuk is a fine man and an excellent dentist, but he is milking this thing for all it is worth. And I’m not blaming him or criticizing him at all; I’m just pointing this out so that no one gets the weird idea that there might soon be another John “Dolly” Lennon roaming the streets, gearing up for British Invasion v2.0. Ignoring for a moment the probable insurmountable biochemical challenges in extracting, amplifying, and actually cloning John’s DNA (not to mention the expense); one also has to consider the little things such as ethics, legal battles, ownership disputes, and so on. It ain’t gonna happen, folks. Michael Zuk will get his fifteen minutes of fame (which is equal to about eight Beatles songs), and he will somehow, some way get more than $31,200 worth of milage and publicity out of it. Consider it a smart and savvy marketing move on his part and good on him. I wish him the best.
But suppose Dr. Zuk could overcome said obstacles. Suppose he owns a private island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean beyond the reach of any scientific or legal body, with the world’s best scientists and the latest technology and equipment at his disposal. How would he go about cloning “The Smart Beatle” (remember, George was the shy one, Paul was the cute one, Ringo was the sad one, and Pete Best was the colossal idiot one)? Here is a step by step, very basic primer on the cloning process of creating a John Lennon:
1. Relatively large, undamaged strands of DNA must be isolated and extracted from the pulp chamber (i.e. nerve) of the tooth. Historically, pulp chambers of animals are excellent reservoirs of genetic material due to the protection of the hard enamel. In John’s case, the pulp chamber would have been invaded by bacteria in the huge cavity, rendering it contaminated. Note: as cloning technology improves, complete strands of DNA will be able to be synthesized from a lot of smaller snippets; further, techniques for separating human DNA from bacterial or other contaminating DNA will improve as well.
2. OK, let’s say we were able to cobble together various chunks and we now have a full, intact strand of John’s DNA. Now what? Now we must make copies of this DNA. Using the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technique, the enzyme polymerase makes exact copies of the original strand(s) of DNA.
3. The next step is transfection, in which the scientist inserts the copied DNA into a host cell, often a cell from which the existing DNA has been removed.
4. Then there is some hocus pocus, hand waving, maybe a smoke bomb or two (actually they run a current through it and do other things), and the cell with the DNA is implanted into the surrogate with conventional IVF techniques.
5. Nine months later a beautiful, beautiful boy is born.
(Disclaimer: I’m not a cloning expert, and I’m sure my simplistic explanation above is fraught with errors. But for our purposes, it gives a broad overview of how cloning occurs. Please forgive any mistakes on my part, and if you want to point them out on the comments page or by emailing me at feedback(at)prismpodcast.com, I’d appreciate it.)
So there you have it: a fun romp through music history and biotechnology.
I just hope that if and when this cloning feat occurs, science will have advanced enough so that the gene that was responsible for the abomination that is the “song” John and Yoko can be excised and forever destroyed. What’s up with that? YOU WERE A BEATLE, FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!!
I can hardly wait,
To see (cloning) come of age,
But I guess we’ll both,
Just have to be patient,
Yes it’s a long way to go…