9:11 p.m. 4.Sep.99

Clones R Us
Marisa Newman on commodity genetics.

The theme for this year's Ars Electronica Festival is LifeScience, exploring biotechnology, genetic engineering and how these technologies will bring forth a "new definition of our future."

For openx, DreamTech International is showcasing Clones R Us. Clones R Us is a virtual corporation that offers a full range of genetic services for today's consumer: they'll scan your DNA, duplicate it, produce an embryo and deliver it directly to your door. Custom cloning, which uses personal DNA, costs a mere $8,000. Designer cloning ranges from $5,299 (for the early Michael Jackson) to $84, 999 (for Cindy Crawford). The high prices for the designer clones are quite justified when you consider licensing fees.

Usman Haque and Hiromi Amano are the two minds behind DreamTech International. Usman is here at openX and personally guided me through the purchase of my first cloned embryo. I studied the price list and realized that the early Michael Jackson or JFK would be less costly, yet still opted for a custom clone of my own DNA. Initially I was worried since I was both unsure about parenthood and particularly unwilling to carry an embryo for 9 months. Usman reassured me that I would be a great parent and that he could find a "birther" for me (she would be Liberian since that was cheaper than one with US citizenship). I was also guaranteed that the "birther" would in no way have any claims to the yet-to-be-born child. I finally received confirmation that my order went through and the cost broke down as follows:
* Lab fee (custom cloning): $8000
* Licensing Fee: $0
* Cell extraction fee: $299
* Surrogation Fee: $5995
* Gender switch: $0
* Total basic cost: $14294

If it hasn't yet become clear, Clones R Us is a spoof. But according to Usman, a lot of people haven't figured that out: he's gotten dozens of guest book messages, including earnest questions from PhD candidates, special requests for sex slaves from kinky fetishists, and one grief-stricken widower who wanted to know if Clones R Us could bring his dead wife back to life!

By treating clones as a commodity, Clones R Us exposes the thorny ethical issues that cloning will force us to confront as it evolves from fringe science to mainstream technology.

According to Ian Wilmut, the scientist who claimed to clone a sheep named Dolly in 1997, "It would be desperately sad if people started using this sort of technology with people." What's your view on cloning? Should it be allowed or banned? Would a clone of Michael Jackson be fully human? Send your thoughts on the matter to list@rhizome.org