Think twins!

By Razib Khan | March 13, 2011 9:40 pm

In the comments below, John Howard asks in relation to me releasing my genotype into the public domain: “I’m curious if this means you give permission to be cloned, or for someone to reproduce with you, by making gametes from your genome. Do you think other people have the right to do that?” I’ll be honest that I laughed when I first saw this comment. My genome is not magical. If someone wants to make more of me (and I can see why they’d want to do that), I probably wouldn’t mind. My siblings are versions of me diluted by a factor of 1/2, if you want to think in terms of blending analogies. But the biggest issue is this: identical twins already share very concordant genomes, and no one would presume that one twin should have a right to a say in the use of the genome of the other twin. Then again, John Howard runs a website, “Dedicated to stopping genetic engineering of human beings, and preserving individual conception rights for all people. All people should be created equal, by the union of a woman and a man.”

Now, imagine that identical twins did not exist. How would you feel about the idea of someone with a nearly identical genome? I think people would be very disturbed by the concept, and I’m sure philosophers would cook up all sorts of bioethical conundrums. But since identical twins do exist, we understand that the whole phenomenon is pretty banal after the first blush of novelty. Genes are not magic. They’re a start. Fear not DNA. It is not the alpha & the omega.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, Genomics
  • Mr Z

    An interesting point. No one can create another Hitler via cloning, nor a Charlemagne or even Mozart should their DNA be available in some way. The problems are many and are well illustrated with a car analogy… GM tries to produce exacting replicas of individual models thousands of times and they do this every year. Despite their efforts, quality varies, performance varies, endurance varies. No two vehicles of the same model are identical. Like a car has a driver, a human has a brain. Despite their similarities, identical twins are not identical in all ways.

    They say that everyone has a twin somewhere. My friends met someone that looks nearly exactly like me. Yet other people have my same name. None of those people are me or even like me in meaningful ways. Cloning a human will get you a human which looks like another – nothing more. There is nothing special in that… until genetic ID systems are implemented. Then a clone is something different altogether.

  • John Howard

    “No one can create another Hitler via cloning”

    It’s true that a person cloned from Hitler’s genes wouldn’t be Hitler, but there is still no right to create someone who has to go through life as Adolph Hitler’s clone. There is also no right to create a clone of Razib, whether he consents or not.

  • Jason Goldman

    Dude, imagine all the posts you could write if there were two of you. Or three, or four, or…

  • onur

    but there is still no right to create someone who has to go through life as Adolph Hitler’s clone. There is also no right to create a clone of Razib, whether he consents or not.

    What makes you think that there is no right to do these things?

  • Jim Johnson

    “Rights” are what a society grants its members. Since the universe doesn’t confer rights, and since our society hasn’t settled upon rights about this, I’m curious by what you mean when you say “There is no right to create a clone of Razib…”?

    Do you mean you believe no such right should be conferred? Or are you just hoping if you say “there is no right” we’ll all just buy into that?

  • bjm

    Re: #3, “Dude, imagine all the posts you could write if there were two of you.”

    Or his clone could grow up to be an anti-evolutionist, creationist troll of science blogs. And the most dangerous kind… a smart one.

  • EcoPhysioMichelle

    Isn’t it impossible to clone someone from a genotype anyway? Wouldn’t you need the full sequence?

  • Zachary Kurtz

    Do those anti-human cloning people even realize that identical twins have the same genomes? Also, do they know that the clones embryo would still have to gestate in a womb?

    If they do, the obvious [weak] religious argument is the only objection that remains.

  • Joshua Zelinsky

    Two (possibly ignorant) questions:

    1) At this point can we clone male mammals with the same mitochondrial DNA as the original? Given how the standard process works my guess would be no.

    2) Does cloning preserve epigenetic information? (Again my guess would be no, but I suspect that this one has a more complicated answer).

    While I can’t see any compelling philosophical justification for rules against cloning people without their consent, there may be policy reasons. One issue that will certainly come up when we start cloning people is who the clone”s legal guardians are. Both the genetic precursor and the person’s who womb the embryo grows in are reasonable defaults. However, if people are free to clone someone else without their consent, making them a default guardian would not be a reasonable policy. If however we want to just make whoever commissioned the clone the person responsible then that removes most of these issues.

    (Btw, John, are you just going to continue to assert that no one has a right to clone Razib or are you going to give something resembling an actual argument. Because right now, listening to you is making me much more inclined to make a few little Razibs once the technology is cheap enough.)

  • Leviticus

    Atavistic fear of clones makes as much sense as ancient superstitions regarding twins and albinos. Put ’em to death or use them in making talismans. What would these people do if confronted with a full-grown person who was a clone? Take him/her to the edge of the village, stone him/her and thereby crush the evil out of the heart of Israel?

    I wish we had a contemporary Sir. James George Frazer to write something about the anti-science types, complete with colorful accounts linking their everyday activities to Attys rites.

  • Pingback: Think twins! - Discover Magazine (blog) | Clone Post()

  • Chris

    Unfortunately, John Howard has taken a position that would actually set a precedent 180-degrees from where he would like to see society. If it were firmly established that there was no “right” to create a person with a specified unique genome, it wouldn’t be long before the courts would find that there was no “right” to create someone with an unspecified unique genome–i.e., no right to mating. The road to controlled cloning is the road to controlled reproduction.

    The correct view is Razib’s: genes are not magic. Seeking to mold moral behavior by controlling gene expression is mistaken. For people like John and I who have a visceral dislike for an imagined “island of Dr. Moreau” future, it is tempting to be in favor of regulation. But the only rights we should recognize are those of a person to have access to and control of their own body (John, I am pro-life. Don’t get your panties in a bunch over this statement).

  • Katharine

    Why am I unsurprised that two men who are super-fussy about reproduction – and these people are almost always men, don’t get me wrong, you rarely see women getting high-strung about any of this – are against my right to choose?

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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at


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