It's a popular defensive strategy at the bottom of the ocean: If you're scared, just clone yourself. The process will make you smaller and harder to find, as well as doubling the chance that your genes will survive. Sand dollar larvae are rampant self-cloners, but they only do it when they sense danger. That means there's a kind of conscious intent behind their cloning — it's not just an ordinary part of their reproductive cycle. How easy would it be to port this trait to humans, so we could just pop out a new self when the old one is about to be offed?
Probably pretty difficult, not least of which because we don't go through an embryo stage outside the womb.
According to an article by Clara Moskowitz in Live Science:
Scientists exposed 4-day-old sand dollar larvae to fish mucus, a sign that danger is close. They found that the larvae created clones of themselves within 24 hours.
"It's the first time we've seen anything clone itself in response to cues that predators are near," said researcher Dawn Vaughn, a biology doctoral student at the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories. After being exposed to fish mucus, the larvae formed embryo-like buds that eventually detached and developed into new, genetically-identical larvae that were much smaller than the originals. The parent larvae were left smaller, too, measuring about half their beginning size . . .
The scientists think cloning may provide a double benefit to larvae facing danger. By doubling themselves, they have a second chance to ensure their genetic information survives even if one larva gets eaten.
Additionally, being smaller may be beneficial to larvae trying to hide from fish.
"Fish are visual predators and often choose their prey based on size," Vaughn told LiveScience. "You're apt to see something bigger. Based on past research, we're hypothesizing that small size protects larvae, but we have to test that."
Still, I want my cloning powers. Image via Live Science.
Creatures Clone Selves in Face of Danger [Live Science]