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Cloning Around: A Dentist’s Quest to Make a New John Lennon

July 24, 2014

This story was not “imagined” by a “paperback writer.” It’s the honest tooth.

John Lennon CloneSometime between 1964 and 1968 (she doesn’t remember when), housekeeper Dot Jarlett was given an extracted molar by her boss, John Lennon. Lennon asked her to throw it away for him, but then jokingly suggested she keep the tooth instead and give it to her daughter, a huge Beatles fan.

In 2011, Omega Auction House acquired it from that lucky Beatles fan and sold it at auction. They expected it to sell for about 9,000 pounds, or around $16,000, which would have been an absurd amount to pay for an old tooth. Omega didn’t get that amount for it—it brought in nearly double, 19,000 pounds, or around $31,200.

The buyer was a Canadian dentist named Dr. Michael Zuk. Why’d he buy it? Zuk describes himself as a huge Beatles fan, but that’s an understatement considering what he wants to do with the tooth. He is prepared to spend however much it takes to extract Lennon’s DNA from the tooth, “fully sequence” it, and then make a clone of John Lennon.

Two things are holding back Zuk’s plans: cloning science is to the point where a cat or a sheep can be cloned, but not a human. Also, the tooth is so old and so fragile that it was too brittle to be subjected to DNA extraction tests. Zuk is confident that neither of these factors will matter much in the near future. “With researchers working on ways to clone mammoths, the same technology certainly could make human cloning a reality,” Zuk told reporters, referring to a dubious report by Russian scientists.

In the meantime, Zuk is letting the tooth out of his sight. In August 2012, he allowed his sister to break off a piece of the tooth (presumably one without much precious DNA in it) and use it in an art project—a clay sculpture of John Lennon. The sculpture toured England to raise awareness of mouth cancer.

As for the future Lennon clone, Zuk plans to raise him like a son. He says he’d make him fully aware of his legacy (“guitar lessons wouldn’t hurt anyone, right?”), but introduce some changes, too. “He would still be his exact duplicate, but you know, hopefully keep him away from drugs and cigarettes,” Zuk told England’s Channel 4.

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