I imagine it won’t come as a surprise to most of you when I reveal I am a fan of science fiction. I love the future in all its forms, dystopian, utopian, post-apocalyptic . . . and the future got a little bit closer with some recent news.

In the UK. Channel 4 recently ran a documentary on  Sooam Biotech’s competition to clone a British dog. Spoilers! The Guardian reported that the winner was a dachshund and gave a little summary of all the picky little ethical issues surrounding dog-cloning.

Dear readers, I have watched this documentary for you. If it’s still up you can find it here. This is how much I love you, my readers, I watch Channel 4 documentaries for you. Although I was also making some tea and checking emails at the same time, this is the hobby after all.

It’s . . . it’s interesting. The people in the documentary love their dogs, I would characterise them as ‘novelty seekers’, and there’s definitely an element of natural science ignorance on show.

Now I’ll never penalise someone for general ignorance, there’s plenty in the world I don’t know. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for people to love their pets – in fact the winner, Rebecca Smith, talks about how her dog helped her to recover from bulimia. Seems pretty relevant after last week’s post (which you guys seemed to love by the way – thanks!). And finally, as a sci-fi fan, I’m attracted to the idea of cloning as a sort of intellectual exercise, what will this dog be like, etc., but I still have a great deal of ethical discomfort surrounding this.

The Roslin researcher featured on the show tells the Korean scientists he doesn’t think it will work because genetics are not the be all and end all of behaviour. The show then invokes the phrase ‘nature versus nurture’ which explaining that the Korean scientists have brought two dogs with them, one of whom is a clone and is affectionately referred to as the ‘evil’ one because she’s so spoiled.

My darling readers, if I ever catch any of you using the phrase ‘nature versus nurture’ the force of my rage will manifest in my instant apparition to your side and a swift scolding of the like you haven’t had since you last tracked mud in over your dad’s clean floors.

It’s an outdated phrase which means nothing, puts you into a binary mindset that the outcome of the complexity of biological life is dictated by one trait. If you find yourself in a situation where you wish to express the concept of underlying biology and psychology having different effects on behavioural outcomes, I give you permission to use a much better phrase instead: Genetic and Environmental Interactions. It even boils down to a cool little equation:  GxE Interactions. Please use this phrase. Please banish Nature Vs Nurture from your minds. It’s one of my biggest bugbears.

What Iove about GxE is that it innately implies that both the genetics and the environment come together to produce the behaviour of interest, but it does miss a very important part of the overall picture, one which we scientists are only beginning to understand ourselves. There are elements of your genetic material which can be changed by your environment and you can pass these changes along to the next generation. Epigenetics is a relatively recent scientific field but explains a lot about how evolution can move so quickly. I’m currently working on a project that involves some background reading on epigenetics so I’ll try and do a post on it in the next few weeks, but for the purposes of today, it’s enough to recognise that even though these two dogs started with the exact same genetic material, even smoking more around one of them will start to change certain elements of that code.

So it’s no wonder there is an ‘evil’ clone of these little dogs the Korean scientists are toting around. They’re not the same animals. Identical twins are different people, after all, and they share masses of genetic and environmental information.

So again we come back to the ethical iffiniess around this whole show. They’ve cloned a dog for a woman who clearly relies upon the first animal for support, and the show doesn’t specify whether they’ve really explained the variation inherent in cloning to her. But at the end Rebecca did seem completely smitten by her little puppy. The problems inherent with spoiling a pet not withstanding, I’m sure there’ll be a lot of love there.

But what about the utopia part of this post? Well the EU has recently launched their Code EFABAR, a voluntary code of good practice for responsible animal breeding. This is great news and I hope all breeders seriously take into consideration what this code represents and what traits they’re breeding for. Responsible breeding takes the animal’s health and welfare, along with food chain sustainability and transparency into account. I’d hope all this seems deeply obvious to my readers and I look forward to seeing people sign up to this code (and perhaps the code’s being extended to domestic breeding too?)

So with all that being said, I think I’m going to go search for ‘Sci-Fi’ on Amazon Prime and see what I can rustle up. Live long and prosper, my friends.

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