Stochasticity or the fatal ‘imperfection’ of cloning
The concept of clone is analysed with the aim of exploring the limits to which a phenotype can be said to be determined geneticaly. First of all, mutations that result from the replication, topological manipulation or lesion of DNA introduce a source of heritable variation in an otherwise identical genetic background. But more important, stochastic effects in many biological processes may superimpose a phenotypic variation which is not encoded in the genome. The source of stochasticity ranges from the random selection of alleles or whole chromosomes to be expressed in small cell populations, to fluctuations in processes such as gene expression, due to limiting amounts of the players involved. The picture emerging is that the term clone is a statistical over-simplification representing a series of individuals having essentially the same genome but capable of exhibiting wide phenotypic variation. Finally, to what extent fluctuations in biological processes, usually thought of as noise, are in fact signal is also discussed.