The Etymology of “Clone”

“Clone” as a term for the production of genetically identical individuals was coined in 1963 by J.B.S. Haldane. It was predated by the horticultural sense of “clon” or “clone,” the process whereby a new plant is created using cuttings from another. Both are from the Ancient Greek klōn, “twig.”

In botany, “clon” was first used in the 19th century, and the final ‘e’ was added in 1903, supposedly to clarify the pronunciation of the long ‘o’ sound.

Botanical cloning refers to any living plant propagated asexually (usually by replanting cuttings) from a single ancestor. Notably, cloning is an important part of the production of wine, in which grape vines are propagated from a “mother vine” that has desirable traits.

From there it was a natural connection to extend the term to natural/asexual, molecular, cellular, and artificial cloning.

Haldane (1892 – 1964) is credited as the first person to have thought of the genetic basis for the cloning of humans, and thought that it could eventually be used to create superhuman or super-talented individuals. He introduced the word “clone” as a word for genetic duplication, especially of humans, in a speech, “Biological Possibilities for the Human Species of the Next Ten Thousand Years,” in 1963.

Some of his thoughts on the process can be read here.

Assuming that cloning is possible, I expect that most clones would be made from people aged at least fifty, except for athletes and dancers, who would be cloned younger. They would be made from people who were held to have excelled in a socially acceptable accomplishment. … Other clones would be the asexual progeny of people with very rare capacities, whose value was problematic, for example permanent dark adaptation, lack of the pain sense, and special capacities for visceral perception and control. Centenarians, if reasonably healthy, would generally be cloned, if this is possible; not that longevity is necessarily desirable, but that data on its desirability are needed.

I’m not a biologist or a botanist, so I apologize if any of the above is ill-informed or incorrect, and I would be happy to be corrected or to learn more.

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