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Dentist wants to clone John Lennon from tooth DNA

Aug 21, 2013

Michael Zuk is really into teeth, even for a dentist. He spent $30k+ on a rotten molar from John Lennon’s mouth though he’s still “applying” for the record for most expensive tooth (which, actually, he did beat).

But Zuk bought the tooth for more than just a tour of the UK to publicize the dangers of mouth cancer, or to make three necklaces (“DNA necklaces”) with little pieces of tooth in them, or to make a similar “DNA sculpture,” or to sell (for charity) photographic prints of various celebrity teeth (aka “rot stars”)—though he did do all of those things. But no, the real story here is that Zuk is now sending the tooth a US lab for DNA sequencing.

Zuk has given permission for the potential DNA to be used in a documentary about “celebrity genetics” but it seems his real interest is a little more out there:

“With researchers working on ways to clone mammoths, the same technology certainly could make human cloning a reality.”

The above quote comes from a press release about the tooth and, by the way, the press release embeds Zuk’s own website in the page—so beware of the autoplaying “Love Me Tooth” which is exactly what it sounds like and I swear I’m not making this all up.

But why exactly does Zuk want to clone Lennon? “To potentially say I had a small part in bringing back one of Rock’s greatest stars would be mind-blowing,” says Zuk, but surely he doesn’t actually think that by cloning John Lennon we would get the same guy who inspired millions and changed music…

“Many Beatles fans remember where they were when they heard John Lennon was shot. I hope they also live to hear the day he was given another chance.”

That’s right on the front page of JohnLennonTooth.com, which is Zuk’s official website (where he casually mentions his media nickname, “the crazy dentist”).

There are so many problems here. Let’s ignore the massive ethical problems tied to human (and non-human, for that matter) cloning…because Zuk ignores it too, or perhaps hasn’t considered it yet. First off, cloning John Lennon would not make an amniotic-fluid covered 40-year-old Lennon pop out of a test tube ready to write his next album. Instead, if we were to ever allow human cloning and succeed in doing it (two big ifs), we would get a baby that would be equivalent to Lennon’s identical twin (except over seventy years younger).

Even if we decided on the insane, completely absurd argument that just about every aspect of a person is controlled by nature (genes, in this case), not nurture (environmental factors), the resulting human still wouldn’t have any memory of Lennon’s life (because he wouldn’t have lived it) or any special knowledge relevant to it. It’d be a baby that would have his DNA, probably grow up to look something like him, and nothing else. Since, in reality, environmental factors affect development plenty in all sorts of ways, the clone would be even more divergent from the original than that.

Maybe I’m just not a dreamer, but this ridiculous plan seems to have no positive medical or scientific outcome (that couldn’t be achieved by cloning a human that wasn’t Lennon). The only cultural outcome would be the brand new problem of how a child grows up with everyone expecting it to be the second coming of John Lennon when really it’s just a kid with the same genetic code.

Then again, this whole thing is much more likely just a massive publicity play by Zuk for his various dental charitable efforts (not to mention for himself, the “crazy dentist”) than an attempt to actually make a copy of a departed rock star. In that case, I guess you win, Dr. Zuk, because here I am talking about you. Except I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re making a distasteful mess of dentistry, genetics, and Lennon himself. But all press is good press, I guess.

Image: Sandra Olson Studio via John Lennon Tooth | h/t: Consequence of Sound


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