When a lock of David Bowie’s hair sold at auction for £13,700 last month, we couldn’t help but wonder if it might be possible to use that lovely DNA to clone the much-missed musician.
It’s surely what he would’ve wanted; to be the first genetically reproduced rock star, a fresh young Zig leading the scene once more, possibly spliced with a dash of Diamond Dog. But would it actually be possible to clone Bowie from the DNA in that lock of hair, and what sort of Bowie 2.0 might we get as a result?
We contacted acclaimed scientist and television presenter Professor Robert Winston to ask him, and his answer is brutally blunt: ludicrous question, no we can’t, and we wouldn’t want to anyway.
“It would be impossible,” Robert explains, humouring us. “You’d need live cells, you couldn’t do it from his hair. It wouldn’t work scientifically, it shows a complete misunderstanding of the process. If I try to take this seriously as a question I lose my credibility as a scientist because everybody reading this will say, ‘We know that’s not possible’. Nobody has successfully cloned a human and the chances of getting a normal human from a cloning procedure is really remote anyway. Do not forget that to clone Dolly The Sheep the scientists in Scotland needed to inject the DNA of Dolly in about 350 different embryos before they had a success and many of those sheep died or were maimed or disadvantaged. There’s even a big question as to whether Dolly was normal. She seemed to undergo the aging process much faster than would have happened to a normal sheep and she was also overweight because of the process. There was a good deal of luck in getting Dolly at all. Admittedly other animals have been cloned occasionally since but there are massive numbers of failures on the way.”
Rather than revive Bowie’s musical genius, Robert argues, even if we could clone him “it would debase David Bowie, who was a great musician, because you might end up with a crap musician. People who do creative or original things are not simply the products of their DNA. Gustav Mahler wouldn’t have written the music he wrote if he hadn’t had this extraordinary childhood – the whole of his development, right through to his last symphony, depended to a very large extent on the fact that all of his siblings had died, some of them in his arms. If you took Beethoven’s DNA now and made sure that he didn’t drink alcohol and not become a drunkard and if you made certain that his deafness was treated and he had a nice relationship with his nephew, he might’ve ended up as a pretty good stockbroker. The whole notion that we depend on our DNA for our personality and our characteristics and our abilities is a nonsense to start with. Bowie, like anybody else, was a product of his environment. If he’d been brought up in a different environment he might not have been a singer, or even musical.”
So that’s us told. Sorry everyone, no Starman: Resurrected for us…