Fictional characters have a habit of popping up again after unpopular deaths. From comic book superheroes to sultry soap opera stars, you just can't keep a good hero down. Leaf through history books and you'll find any number of legendary kings and saviors slated for an eventual return as well.
But what if death weren't the end in real life, too? What if we could bring back some of the world's most extraordinary figures? Could Albert Einstein help us to solve the energy crisis? What kind of album could Ludwig van Beethoven produce in a modern recording studio?
While such notions were previously the domain of fantasy and mysticism, modern science has finally reached the point where such tales of resurrection might have a real-world counterpart: human gene banks. After all, much of who we are boils down to our genes. These little tidbits of information are located on strands of DNA in every cell in the human body. This means that if you had a sample of Einstein's DNA, you'd essentially have a biological blueprint for his brain.
This is where the prospect of cloning enters the picture. Human cloning is currently outlawed in numerous countries, but scientists have successfully produced genetic copies of various animals and could hypothetically perform the same procedure with human genetic material.
Forget the movie images of full-grown zombie men emerging from stainless steel vats of embryonic fluid. These human clones would be normal infants, each brought to term by a human mother. The only difference is that the reproduction is asexual instead of sexual. Scientists would take a donated egg, fuse it with a cell from the person to be cloned and then implant it in the mother. This procedure is known as somatic cell nuclear transfer. Some scientists even think we could clone individuals who are currently dead, provided enough genetic material has been preserved. For more on these issues, read How Human Cloning Will Work.
The resulting clone baby would have none of the memories or experiences of its clone parent. But genetically, it would be identical -- meaning that a clone of Einstein would possess the same mental advantages the original possessed at birth.
Sound like a good idea? Well, not everyone's excited about going to Einstein II's baby shower.