What if … Worcester: Dateline 2047 — 2Jane starts school at Gateway Elementary

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This article was originally published in the Aug. 21, 2016 edition of the Sun.

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Editor’s note: This is the second installment of our newest series What if … Worcester, what we hope to be a fascinating, imaginative and often reality-based window into the coming decades and centuries in and around the City of Seven Hills.

THURSDAY, Aug. 22, 2047 — Six-year-old 2Jane MacConnell started elementary school yesterday, marking a milestone in cloning technology.

2Jane is a clone of Jane MacConnell, who was killed eight years ago in a human-driven car accident. Jane was 10 years old and the only child of Drs. Hunter and Ella MacConnell of Worcester.

After the accident, the MacConnells worked with biotech startup CloLabs in Westborough. It was just the seventh successful (neonate living beyond 30 days) cloning procedure in the United States. The scientific and legal process was documented in the reality web series, “Jane and Jane Again.”

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Now, six years later, 2Jane is about to enter Gateway Elementary School, where her donor attended years ago. Will it be unsettling for teachers to see the same girl, physically at least, who was once their student?

“We had to have some counseling with our teachers over the summer,” said principal Veseka Sopa. “Many of them remember Jane when she was a student here, remember her as a bright, curious child. When 2Jane comes, we’ve emphasized this is the same Jane, not her sister, not a different person, but the same little girl, but with different memories.

“It’s going to take some adapting. But we’re teachers, and teachers are great at adapting.”

Human cloning, once considered extremely risky, has recently seen a sharp increase in success rate. Using a process called Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer — which has advanced leaps and bounds from its stem-cell research days in the late-20th and early part of this century — scientists replace the nucleus of a female human egg with the nucleus taken from the donor’s cell, and then bind cell to nucleus using electricity.

If successful, the zygote grows like any other baby. The clone and her host share identical biological traits, from eye color to voice timbre to allergies. Despite recent successes worldwide, cloning remains a prohibitively expensive procedure. The MacConnells have declined to say how much they paid CloLabs.

Otherwise, the MacConnells, both university professors, have been open with the public about their experiences and their grief. Sunday they appeared on “60 Minutes” during an interview with host Stephen Colbert.

“Burying a child is a tragedy that no parent should ever have to go through,” said Mrs. MacConnell. “We’re just happy that technology has given us this opportunity to put that tragic chapter behind us and start over, with the same beautiful daughter.”

This morning, about half a dozen television crews milled about the front door of the school, converging on the black human-driven sedan that pulled up on Garden Street.

After parking, the chauffeur let out Mr. MacConnell, in a dark suit, Ms. MacConnell, in a khaki business suit, and 2Jane, in a white short-sleeved dress with her brown hair in a ponytail. She carried her school ebook in one hand and a pink plastic Dora the Explorer lunch tote in the other.

Ms. Sopa met the MacConnells on the steps of the school and knelt to give 2Jane a welcoming hug. Turning to the television cameras and the 30 or so spectators, she gave an impromptu speech.

“We’re so happy to have 2Jane and her family here at Gateway Park Elementary. As teachers, we put politics aside at this front door. To us, 2Jane is a child, and we make sure that every child has the very best education, period.”

With the principal’s hand on her shoulder, 2Jane was guided into the school building. Ms. Sopa and the MacConnells exchanged a few more words regarding pickup time, and then the couple returned quickly to the sedan, which whisked them in the direction of their Salisbury Street home.

Not everyone present agreed with Ms. Sopa. On the sidewalk across Garden Street stood half a dozen protesters holding signs that read, “Clones aren’t people” and “One person = One code.”

“This is truly sad,” said one protester, who identified herself as from the group Christian-Islamic Vigilance In Science. “Clones are an abomination of God’s will and have no place in our schools with normal kids. I mean, they said they only copied that girl’s DNA, but who’s to say they didn’t try to enhance something while they were at it? A little cut-and-paste and suddenly you have a Franken-student who’s smarter than our own kids.

“It’s not fair and it’s not natural.”

The TV crews and the crowds departed soon after the first school bell rang.

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