Wednesday, April 09, 2008

To clone a tree...

Here is a good example of science & religion cooperation. There are plans to preserve the Bodhi tree - a sacred tree at Bodh Gaya temple, by cloning it (from The Times of India):
Worried over the health of the Bodhi tree, Bodh Gaya temple authorities have quietly prepared a plan to preserve the sacred tree, which grew from the banyan tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment more than 2,500 years ago.

The cloning will be done in a laboratory to preserve its origin. The Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee, which looks after the temple, a Unesco World Heritage site, fears that the tree may collapse because of diseases or natural causes.

The plan is part of an agreement signed between the temple committee and Forest Research Institute (FRI), Dehradun, three months ago. According to the agreement, FRI scientists will do a ‘virtual modelling’ using cells of the existing tree through a DNA finger printing exercise. The scientists have also been asked to conduct a health check-up of the tree every six months.

The tree is one of the most important icons of Buddhism. A large number of foreign tourists visit Bodh Gaya to get a glimpse of the tree.
And why worry about the tree now?
In the last one year, the tree has been afflicted with several diseases. First, it was hit by milibug, a plant disease. Last year, there was an alarming fall of fresh leaves from the tree. During their investigation, FRI scientists found that the tree was suffering because of poor maintenance.
Hmm..."poor maintenance"?? Most likely from over watering the tree. In any case, the cloning idea is a good one and this issue is a pleasant departure from the usual cloning debates.

5 comments:

Don said...

This is great! Still, I wonder if the same arguments that come up over whether a cloned animal can share the originals history will come up with this plant. I mean, if any plant has a shot at being the subject of interesting discussions about its history and consciousness, the Bodhi Tree is it. Will a cloned Bodhi Tree be the SAME as the original Bodhi Tree?

Maybe it'll be the reincarnated, genetically identical Bodhi Tree. Beliefs in reincarnation have got to blend strangely with attitudes towards cloning.

Salman Hameed said...

You have to complicate things, don't you? :)

Thanks for pointing this out - this is a really interesting point! So do you think trees can have "identity"? Minus the concept of reincarnation, the cloned tree, I think, will not be the same as the original one. But then, is the "reincarnated" tree expected to be identical to the original one?

Don said...

Sure, trees can have identity. In the case of the Bodhi Tree, it's an unusually complex one. The identity of most individual plants consists of genetic, phenotypic, spatiotemporal, and ecological qualities. But the Bodhi tree also has historical and cultural qualities that most individual plants lack.

Those very same historical and cultural qualities may be what would allow a second Bodhi Tree to actually BE identical to the original. I think this is where reincarnation complicates the picture. If it weren't for the idea of reincarnation (which I might misunderstand), the environmental impact on phenotypic expression alone would prevent a cloned Bodhi Tree from being identical to the original.

Buddhism, luckily for any clone of the Bodhi Tree, doesn't have the same idea of the soul as, say, hard-line Catholicism. For such Catholicism, the soul is an indivisible unit that does not return to earth upon the demise of its earthly vessel. Especially not in the form of another earthly vessel. But a reincarnation of the Bodhi Tree as the Bodhi Tree seems quite feasible under Buddhist lights.

Whether the "reincarnated" tree is expected to be identical, I have no idea. But I think that for the right kind of Buddhist, it could be.

Salman Hameed said...

>Those very same historical and cultural qualities may be what would allow a second Bodhi Tree to actually BE identical to the original. I think this is where reincarnation complicates the picture. If it weren't for the idea of reincarnation (which I might misunderstand), the environmental impact on phenotypic expression alone would prevent a cloned Bodhi Tree from being identical to the original

Sure, identical, but not the same. Basically, cultural and historical links will bring the question closer to the problems posed for "identity" in human cloning. Otherwise, this would not even be close due to environmental impact on phenotype expression. Am I interpreting you correctly?

By the way there is a science fiction idea somewhere in the tension between reincarnation and cloning - though probably centered around something more animated than a tree.

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