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Cloning - where the other white meat comes from - Curt Yeomans

Am I going to mutate into another life form if I eat a cloned animal?

I'm sure that question will roll around the minds of at least a few diners after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared, earlier this week, that these test-tube beasts are safe to eat.

Cloned cows can give us milk, and they can be carved up and made in to sirloin steaks. This is going to take some time to process, and understand.

It's not that I'm going to refuse to eat meat from a cloned animal. I'll just need some convincing, beyond the FDA telling me it's safe. We're talking about venturing into uncharted territory here.

So, if turkey is THE white meat, and pork is the other white meat, does that mean cloned animals produce the OTHER, OTHER white meat?

All kidding aside, I think some public education on cloning is going to be necessary before people will buy into the cloned food fad. People should know how these food sources are created. You know, to reassure them, and to convince them the meat is safe to eat. Here's the basics of what we know so far:

· Dolly the sheep was the first, known, cloned animal. I'm sure her wool was turned into many sweaters before she died in 2003, five to six years before normally reproduced sheep (non-cloned ones) would normally die. Oh, she also had lung cancer and arthritis, according to the web site of the United States government's Human Genome Project. She died from lethal injection.

· Dolly was followed by a wide variety of cloned animals, ranging from cows to household cats. Cloning animals was the "in" thing to do, of sorts, in the late 1990's, and early 2000's.

· Rodney Dangerfield wants to be cloned, so his doppelganger can get "no respect" as well.

There is more to the cloning we see on the news, though.

First off, it's not the kind of thing you see in science fiction movies, although it certainly sounds like it. You don't cut a person's finger off, put it in a machine, and viola!, you have a fully grown clone. Second, as far as we know, no humans have been produced through cloning, although a few companies claim to have done it. There is just no proof that it's happened - yet.

According to the web site for the Human Genome Project, what we are seeing going on with the animals is called "reproductive cloning." This is where DNA from an adult cell is inserted into an egg which has no nucleus. The egg is then treated with either chemicals, or electricity, to "stimulate cell division." Eventually, the egg is inserted into the uterus of a female, which will carry the little tyke until he, or she, is born.

Now, there are lots of jokes one can make about cloning. Most of these involve depicting the cloned animals as some sort of monster. Dolly, the sheep, didn't rip her way out of her surrogate mother's womb à la the scene in "Alien," where the monster explodes out of the guy's stomach at diner, hisses at Sigourney Weaver and then runs away.

I guess if Dolly had been born in that manner, she would have burst out, and let out an evil "BAAAAAAAA" before running off to eat some grass.

Cloned animals do not have three heads, 1,000 eyes and two tails. We don't get flying monkeys as a result of cloning. We also don't get people living in pods, waiting to replace us without anyone knowing about it. I certainly don't think we need to be worrying about sheep-clone armies marching on our cities in space suits, while holding ray guns in hooves.

Eating a cloned animal, I suppose, would be like genetically-engineered foods, such as corn and green beans. I wouldn't know first-hand about the eating a cloned animal parts, though, since humans haven't been allowed to eat the cloned animals until this week.

I'd like to hope, however, that I won't mutate in to some other life form if I eat a cloned animal.

Curt Yeomans covers education for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached at (770) 478-5753, ext. 247 or via e-mail at cyeomans@news-daily.com.