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One doesn't expect Dr. Frankenstein to show up in wool sweater, baggy parka, soft British accent and the face of a bank clerk. But there in all banal benignity he was: Dr. Ian Wilmut, the first man to create fully formed life from adult body parts since Mary Shelley's mad scientist.

The creator wore chinos. Wilmut may not look the part, but he plays it. He took a cell nucleus from a six-year-old ewe, fashioned from it a perfect twin--adding the nice Frankenstein touch of passing an electric charge through the composite cell to get it growing--and called it Dolly.

Dolly, the clone, is an epochal--a cataclysmic--creature. Not because of the technology that produced it. Transferring nuclei has been done a hundred times. But because of the science. Dolly is living proof that an adult cell can revert to embryonic stage and produce a full new being. This was not supposed to happen.

It doesn't even happen in amphibians, those wondrously regenerative little creatures, some of which can regrow a cut-off limb or tail. Try to grow an organism from a frog cell, and what do you get? You get, to quote biologist Colin Stewart, "embryos rather ignominiously dying (croaking!) around the tadpole stage."

And what hath Wilmut wrought? A fully formed, perfectly healthy mammal--a mammal!--born from a single adult cell. Not since God took Adam's rib and fashioned a helpmate for him has anything so fantastic occurred.

What, then, was the reaction to this breakthrough of biblical proportions?

There is a mischievous story (told mostly in England) that a leading Scottish newspaper reported the Titanic sinking with the headline GLASGOW MAN LOST AT SEA. Well, here was a story that deserved the headline MAN CREATES LIFE. And how does it play? A Wall Street Journal headline urgently asks, WHO WILL CASH IN ON BREAKTHROUGH IN CLONING? (Answer: "Tiny company could emerge a big winner.") The President of the U.S. calls for a committee of experts to gather and pull their beards.

And the New York Times, in a lovely coda to its editorial titled CLONING FOR GOOD OR EVIL, advises that "society will need to sort through what is acceptable and what is the nightmare beyond."

Well, yes. The most portentous scientific achievement since Alamogordo will need a weighing of pros and cons. No kidding.

And, no doubt, the pro-and-con weighing, the pontificating and the chin pulling will now go into high gear. Wilmut will spawn more ethics conclaves than cloned sheep. No matter. There is nothing to stop cloning, not even of humans.

What the politicians do not understand is that Wilmut discovered not so much a technical trick as a new law of nature. We now know that an adult mammalian cell can fire up all the dormant genetic instructions that shut down as it divides and specializes and ages, and thus can become a source of new life.

You can outlaw technique; you cannot repeal biology. And even the outlawing of this technique--Britain, for example, forbids the cloning of humans--will fail. It is too simple, too replicable. No amount of regulation by the FDA or the NIH or even the FBI will stop it.

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