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In my story, there is a private institution called the GenoVate Initiative. The GenoVate Initiative wants to preserve the most exceptional individuals in the human gene pool. People who have accomplished amazing achievements in intellect (Nobel Prize winners), physicality (Olympic Gold Medalists), beauty (decorated beauty queens or supermodels), or other major cultural achievements (famous humanitarians) can have their genes preserved by the institute. Originally, their sex cells were cryogenically preserved and mixed with other great people using In-Vitro Fertilization. The zygote would be placed inside a surrogate mother and the institute would raise the child.

Recently, I read an article about stem cells being transformed into sex cells (both sperm and egg). It made me realize that it could be possible for instance to take a sperm donation from a man, transform his stem cell into an egg cell, implant it inside a woman, and outcomes a baby clone of the man.

Is it actually possible to make carbon-copies of individuals this way? Or are there some major obstacles that I'm ignoring?

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    $\begingroup$ At birth, the brain of a human is blank. Whether the blank brain will develop into the brain of a genius or not depends in part of the inherited genetic makeup, and in another part on the education received by the person during their formative years. So that if you clone Einstein, you may get a great physicist, or you may get a very good but not all that great violinist, or you may get an infamous womanizer. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Nov 4, 2023 at 19:41
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    $\begingroup$ What you describe is autogamy (self-fertilization). The genetic code gets "re-arranged", it is not identical (in contrast to cloning). Cloning does not involve fertilization. $\endgroup$
    – Matthias
    Nov 5, 2023 at 9:57
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    $\begingroup$ @alexP no the brain is not blank at birth. Already in the womb the baby make a lot of experiences, like hearing and even tasting the food the mother eats. Also while not being the single "be all end all" factor of becoming a genius or not, the genetics DO play a role. $\endgroup$
    – datacube
    Nov 5, 2023 at 11:35
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    $\begingroup$ @datacube Alex's perspective isn't wrong. The brain in the womb is remarkably undeveloped. It doesn't complete its development until somewhere around the mid-to-late 20s. Yes, insofar as the undeveloped brain can store useful information about experience in the womb, it can, but it's childish to state that in a way that suggests it matters. The youngest college graduate graduated at age 10, but it's notable that he's not a genius in geology... $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Nov 5, 2023 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ Note: your "take a sperm donation from a man, transform his stem cell into an egg cell" approach isn't cloning. This would be reproduction with a relatedness coefficient $r=1$, for a coefficient of inbreeding of $\frac{1+f_P}{2}$ (where $f_P$ is the coefficient of inbreeding of the parent). Additionally, about half the zygotes would end up with two Y chromosomes, and so be (afaik) completely unviable. This is not the way to do it. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Nov 5, 2023 at 17:10

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Mammals have already been cloned, probably the most famous example being Dolly the sheep in 1996. This did not actually start with a sperm cell, which has only have the chromosomes of a normal cell. Instead, the nucleus of an ordinary cell was used to replace the nucleus of an ovum, in a process known as somatic cell nuclear transfer.

In principle, there is no reason this could not work with humans, and in fact embryos have been created, but they were destroyed and no cloned humans have been born. Many jurisdictions have banned human cloning. One ethical concern is simply risk to the person who is born a clone - Dolly died young (but other cloned sheep lived normal lives). Certainly anyone cloning a person and bringing them to term would receive a firestorm of criticism. But, in a science fiction context, it is entirely plausible with present-day or near-future technology.

All of that being said, I would be extremely leery of applying the term "carbon copy" to human beings. I think KEY_ABRADE's answer makes that point very well.

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What made the originals geniuses isn't just their genetics, it's also their upbringing. The brain isn't a set-piece thing which doesn't change over the course of one's life — external developmental, social, and epigenetic factors also get a say.

Clones in real life already aren't carbon copies. Sure, their genetics may be identical at the moment of conception, but there's a very, very minor amount of difference caused by epigenetic factors over the course of their lives — like, if you grow up next to the glue factory, expect a bit more oxidative stress in your DNA, to the point that it may be inheritable. Or, for that matter, cancer-causing. Additionally, and more importantly, the personalities of clones diverge.

Think of it as identical or near-identical hardware running different software. Granted, in the case of a human, the hardware (brain) and software (personality) are arguably so heavily indistinguishable as to be intertwined, but the general point is that no, even if you make a physical carbon copy of a person you can't make them have the same personality or intelligence as the original.

Unless you can clone a near-exact copy of Ramanujan and raise him in a near-exact copy of the environment he grew up in, you're not getting another Ramanujan. You might get a very smart person who looks very much like Ramanujan, but you're not getting Ramanujan.

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    $\begingroup$ You overlook the obvious fact that we have genetic clones now in the form of identical twins - they are always clearly different individuals in their intellectual and physical capacity. $\endgroup$
    – Dale M
    Nov 5, 2023 at 10:43
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    $\begingroup$ Still, I think it should be noted that intelligence is a rather heritable trait: smart parents tend to have smart children, and identical twins tend to have rather similar levels of intelligence. While you probably wouldn't be able to reliably manufacture geniuses, you could definitely produce smart individuals that have a higher chance at becoming "geniuses" compared to the average pop. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Nov 5, 2023 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ Also don't forget one important thing. No 'environment' can ever truly duplicated EXACTLY. Even in the simplest of 'environments' such as two beakers of growth medium over time probability is going to lead to divergence. At the level of human beings? The 'environment' is so complex as to be impossible to reproduce identically. Throw in humans long maturation period and it would be virtually impossible for your geniuses to turn out 'identically' productive. Raise two identicle Hitlers. One gets into art school, one doesn't. Same thing for your geniuses. $\endgroup$
    – Mon
    Nov 5, 2023 at 23:03
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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't answer that we probably can indeed clone humans. $\endgroup$
    – Jemox
    Nov 6, 2023 at 8:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek it bears remembering that a) twins tend to be brought up in the same environments, and so their similar levels of intelligence are not entirely surprising, and the children of smart parents may benefit from the parents replicating their own opportunities but regression to the mean is very much a thing. $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2023 at 10:28
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With modern technology? Probably not. I don't believe we're there yet. But let's assume that we can.

Could you create a second Einstein? Maybe. Genius isn't just the capability of doing something, it has a LOT to do with behavior, circumstance, training, being in the right place at the right time to trigger that, "I can do this!" moment. There would be an entire story (a cool one...) worth of psychology involved in creating a 2nd Einstein from the raw material of the first.

Think of it this way: you can create a store of superior steel that is eventually used to create a magnificent building.

Then you can create an identical store of superior steel that gets used to make railroad tracks.

The difference? The raw material was the same — that starting point where everything could work out the way you want it to — but how it's used has, frankly, more to do with the outcome than the raw material itself.

Why do I say this? Because a magical Star Trek teleporter could duplicate the person entirely (including neural patterns), but cloning will always force you to start with the original raw material...

... unless you also have the technology to imprint the original's neural patterns onto the cloned brain. That's an entirely separate technology that has nothing to do with cloning that we absolutely cannot do today by any stretch of the imagination.

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Is it actually possible to make carbon-copies of individuals this way?

It is almost certainly possible to clone humans. What is far from clear is whether you'd be able to make "carbon copies", because a babies come with fairly minimal mental facilities pre-installed (notably the ability to learn, especially language) and everything else gets picked up as they grow. You cannot practically replicate the childhood, adolescence and early adulthood of any particular human genius, so what you'll mostly have is an expensively produced relative of some famous figure with a frankly terrifying amount of expectation laid upon their shoulders which seems mostly like a recipe for traumatizing children (and don't get me wrong, if this is your intent then a setting that has a production line for depressed and rejected clones forever living in the shadow of their forebears and possibly billed for their failure to deliver sound like an excellent scifi dystopia).

People who have accomplished amazing achievements in intellect (Nobel Prize winners), physicality (Olympic Gold Medalists), beauty (decorated beauty queens or supermodels), or other major cultural achievements (famous humanitarians)

Are you aware of the notion of Nobel disease? Or perhaps of the long, long list of female scientists whose work was stolen by their male colleagues? Are you certain you're not selecting for people who got lucky, and who were supported because of the position they held in their society at the time thanks to their gender or skin color or who they were related to? Humans famously "stand on the shoulders of giants", and even the circumstances that brought about success in the original might not rise again, even if you could perfectly replicate the person who achieved them in the first place.

Beauty and athletic prowess at least seem somewhat more likely to be replicable given a suitable set of donor gametes and a healthy upbringing, but other than the fame factor I can't help feeling you'd get a better return on investment by ensuring that more children got a healthy and supportive upbringing so that their natural aptitudes were able to flourish, but I guess no-one wants to read about boring scifi utopias.

Recently, I read an article about stem cells being transformed into sex cells (both sperm and egg). It made me realize that it could be possible for instance to take a sperm donation from a man, transform his stem cell into an egg cell, implant it inside a woman, and outcomes a baby clone of the man.

Whilst this isn't immediately obvious, autogamy does not imply that offspring which only have a single parent are in fact clones of that parent. Even without going in to the complexity of epigenetics, it is possible for genes to be heterozygous, meaning that the parent can have two different variations of a gene in their DNA, but a particular gamete they produce can only have one of those variations. That means that a random pairing of sperm and egg from a single parent can be homozygous for some of more of the parent's genes. Genetic dominance is complex, but you can end up with a bunch of non-clone children who share a single genetic parent and yet who nonetheless might end up with things like different hair or eye colors, some having a genetic disease but not others, and so on.

For complex traits like "intelligence" it seems like an absolute nightmare to guarantee that any one child made this way would actually reflect their genetic parent's actual genetic capabilities, even before having to deal with the even more complex issue of environment and upbringing. Again though, a fictional (at least for now) setting where someone can be an unambiguously inferior recombinant child of a "great" person in a way that might only become obvious later in their life does seem like an excellent way to introduce some instant drama and conflict.

If you want to make clones (and be aware, these can't be perfect clones without magic!) you'll need to have the DNA of a regular cell from your donors... sex cells alone will not be sufficient.

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