Dave Barry

Your personal cloning manual; copies available

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published Dec. 30, 2001.)

Human cloning: Will it be a lifesaving scientific advance, like penicillin? Or will it prove to be a horrible mistake that unleashes untold devastation upon humanity, like the accordion?

As American citizens, we need to form strong opinions about this issue, so that we can write letters to our congresspersons, so that their staffs can, as a precautionary measure, burn them. But first we must inform ourselves by asking questions and then answering them in the ''Q'' and ''A'' format.

Q. Does Tom Cruise shave his chest?

A. We meant questions about cloning.

Q. Oh, OK. What is cloning?

A. In scientific terms, it is a procedure by which a theoretically infinite number of genetically identical organisms emerge, one at a time, from a Volkswagen Beetle.

Q. No, that's ''clowning.''

A. Whoops! Our bad! Cloning is a procedure whereby scientists, using tweezers, manipulate DNA, which is a tiny genetic code that is found in all living things as well as crime scenes that have been visited by O.J. Simpson. A single strand of DNA can be used to create a whole new organism, as was proved when scientists at Stanford University took DNA from the fingernail of a deceased man and grew a six-foot-tall, 190-pound fingernail. Unfortunately, it escaped from the laboratory and held police at bay for hours by screeching itself against a blackboard. It was finally subdued by National Guard troops equipped with earplugs and a huge emery board.

Q. Have scientists cloned any other organisms?

A. In 1997, a group of Scottish scientists cloned a sheep named Dolly, which was genetically identical to the original sheep.

Q. How could they tell?

A. They had the original farmer take a hard look at it, and he said, quote: ''That's her, all right!''

Q. Wow.

A. Of course, he said the same thing about one of the scientists.

Q. Have there been any other successful cloning experiments?

A. Yes. In 1995, scientists in Florida used a single of strand of DNA from the Backstreet Boys to form `N Sync. Or maybe it was the other way around.

Q. What about humans?

A. We are getting very close. Recently, a firm in Massachusetts announced that it had cloned some human embryos. However, these embryos were alive for only a few hours, and stopped growing after they had formed microscopic six-cell spheres.

Q. What did the firm do with them?

A. They are currently working in Customer Service.

Q. Is anybody else trying to clone humans?

A. Yes. A group called the ''Raelians,'' which was founded in France, and which we are not making up, claims to be working on a human-cloning project. According to their Internet site (http://www.rael.org), the Raelians are named for a French journalist named Rael who, in 1973, ''was contacted by a visitor from another planet.'' This visitor informed Rael that human life was brought to Earth by aliens, who will come back and visit us if we build them an embassy. The Raelians estimate that this will cost $20 million, and would appreciate donations for this vital mission.

Q. Where does the U.S. government stand on this issue?

A. There is growing bipartisan support for a nuclear strike against France.

Q. Speaking of wacko cults, do you think Tom Cruise is so handsome?

A. We think he is a little chest-shaving weasel, but when we ask our spouse to confirm this, she just gets this dreamy look in her eyes.

Q. How do you, personally, feel about human cloning?

A. Why do you think we refer to ourselves in the plural?