Imagine a world where dead men walk and human DNA can be extracted and replicated from leftover teeth. That’s the dream of Dr. Michael Zuk, the self-promoting dentist who wants to clone Beatles legend John Lennon — bringing the rock star back to life.
While some may write off Zuk’s goal as a Don Quixote-esque fool’s errand, the dentist-turned-collector told The Huffington Post that he’s serious about his plan toextract genetic material from one of Lennon’s rotten molars.
Zuk bought the decades-old tooth at a 2011 auction for $31,000, according to Canadian station CTV News. Rolling Stone reported that the star had given his molar to his housekeeper in the 1960s, and it later passed into the hands of her daughter, a Beatles fan.
“I had a bigger picture even then,” Zuk told HuffPost of his plan to extract DNA after purchasing the tooth. “I knew it was a bit of a long shot, but still not terribly unlikely that a person could get some genetic material from the tooth.”
Assuming researchers could extract the material, the next step would be to sequence the DNA of Lennon, who was fatally shot at the age of 40 in New York City in 1980.
To “bring someone back from history … would be the ultimate expression of science,” Luk told HuffPost. But is it even possible?
In 1996, Dolly the sheep was cloned by implanting genetic material from a sheep’s udder cell into an egg, which in turn was implanted into a surrogate sheep mother. Seventeen years later, however, human cloning remains out of reach, even assuming DNA could be pulled from the tooth.
On the other hand, just because the technology does not currently exist doesn’t mean it won’t become available eventually.
Dr. Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford in England, told The Guardian in May that the question should no longer be if we should clone a human, but rather, for what reasons.
“We should have spent the intervening time [since cloning Dolly] thinking about how we should react sensibly to the concept of a human clone when it does become possible,” Blakemore said. “We have not done that and, although the science is still far off, it is getting closer. We need to ask, carefully and calmly: under what circumstances would we tolerate the creation of a human clone?”
Zuk told the HuffPost he’s waiting to begin working with scientists until after he secures a film crew willing to make a documentary about the process. But he said he is confident it will be easy to find both researchers and filmmakers who are up for the challenge.
“There are a number of scientists around the world who are working on genetic sequencing,” he told HuffPost. “We’re needing less and less genetic material to bring back a mammal.”
However, University of Toronto bioethicist Kerry Bowman told Canadian site The Star that Luk is treading on thin ice ethically.
“It’s extremely personal information, there’s nothing at all related to consent, and we don’t fully understand the implications of putting out a completely sequenced DNA of a human being. We don’t know what that means,” he said.
Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, has yet to publicly comment on the matter.
As for what Lennon would have wanted, perhaps we should let his music do the talking. In the Beatles’ 1967 hit “All You Need Is Love,” Lennon sang, “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” But he never said anything about whether you should do it.