Is IVF with sperm cell DNA from dead celebrities possible?

There’s lots of DNA samples auctioned off as belonging to famous dead people - ie. a lock of Beethoven’s hair. If scientists could retrieve his DNA from the hair, could they then clone it as a sperm cell and, say, plant it in a fertilized egg and then have a woman bring the Beethoven baby to term in vitro? I always did like Marilyn Monroe, maybe my wife could…uh, nevermind.

Theoretically, probably. Practically, not for a long time, if ever. There are a whole lot of technical obstacles that would have to be overcome first. Lots. I don’t even know where to start, so I’ll leave it at that.

Technically, even if it was possible to clone him genitically, it wouldn’t exactly be a perfect clone. First off, the person wouldn’t have the same personality. Secondly, if Beethoven took his vitamins, but his clone doesn’t, they won’t develop exactly the same either. Third- there are all sorts of little things. Moles, scars, wrinkles, finger prints, ect. that are unique to each individual. Since real Beethoven grew up long ago, any genitic twin nowadays would grow up and develop in a completely different environment. Who knows if clone Beethoven would even like music. He might end up being a garbage man or a librarian or something.

Slight nitpick: it would be a perfect clone. A clone is something that is genetically identical. They would not be physically identical, however, for the reasons you mentioned.

No, the resulting baby wouldn’t be anything resembling a perfect clone. The premise here is that we’re just producing a sperm cell, and getting the egg in the usual manner. The baby would be Beethoven’s son or daughter, genetically no different from a “traditional” son or daughter. Haven’t you ever heard of a person wanting to have some celebrity’s baby?

No, the baby produced by the technique described in the OP would not be a clone at all. The OP didn’t even call it a clone - he said clone the DNA into a sperm cell and use it to make a baby. RyanD called it a clone, then I responded to clarify what he said. Sorry if I caused any confusion.

Recent cloning techniques do not use sperm. They use a living nucleus extracted from a living cell to inject into a nucleus-free oocyte. For Dolly The Sheep, this nucleus was from a mammary gland. A somatic (body cell) contains a double complement of DNA – 2 copies of every gene in the genome (one from the mother and one from the father). In the germ line (sperm or egg) these are shuffled and reduced into one complement – one copy of all genes in a mosaic fashion from mother and father.

The problem would be acquiring an intact, living nucleus from someone who has been dead for 200 years. What is remaining in the sample (from a lock of hair for instance, I doubt Beethoven left very many cryopreserved sperm samples around) is cell fragments and whatever DNA survives. The vast majority of DNA is probably digested. Cells have endogenous DNases which chew up DNA when membranes break down (when cells die).

This doesn’t mean that some usable DNA can be extracted. I just think the possibility of getting a whole, unscathed nucleus out of Beethoven’s lock of hair is infinitesimal. We do not possess the technology to reconstitute a genome from shards from many nuclei. We are not even close to that. We can’t even repackage an entire genome into a donor nucleus. An intact, living nucleus must be extracted from a living cell and injected into a nucleus-free oocyte.

Next, by a quirk of genetics, even a nuclear-transfer clone is not genetically identical to the donor. This is due to several things : not all genetic information is contained in the nucleus (there is a mitochondrial genome inherited directly from the mother) and encased RNPs (ribonucleoproteins) which code for certain events which take place within minutes of fertilization and before transcription begins from the new nucleus.

They would be genetically identical in the usual sense of the word, though. If the donor was suspected of brutally slaying his ex-wife and her boyfriend, and left blood on a glove behind his guest house, he could reasonably claim that his evil clone did it. Genetic fingerprinting relies on RFLP analysis of nuclear polymorphisms. Those would be identical.

So there.