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SCIENTISTS TINKERING WITH BASS.

Byline: Ray Sasser Dallas Morning News

Over in Scotland, scientists cloned a sheep and opened a can of genetically identical worms. The ethical questions raised cannot be answered by Mother Nature.

In sprawling vistas of the Texas Hill Country, suntanned ranchers are wondering why anyone would want to clone a sheep, since they all look pretty much alike to begin with.

South Central Texas has historically been the state's sheep and goat farming capital. It's also an unlikely hotbed for fisheries research. Heart of the Hills Research Station, Texas Parks and Wildlife's primary fisheries research facility, is tucked away in a scenic bend of Johnson Creek, a major tributary of the Guadalupe River.

At this tranquil spot, state biologists already have separated dumb bass from smart ones and have created a bass with an extra set of chromosomes.

Can a bass clone be far behind? ``It's an interesting possibility,'' said Dick Luebke, the department's research program director.

``Cloning appears to be a potentially attractive tool that may have a place in future fisheries management. Of course, cloning is the ultimate in inbreeding, and you've got to be careful how you use it.''

For all intents and purposes, a clone is a carbon copy of the original chromosome donor. At the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, state biologists are working with mammoth bass. They're hoping to use huge broodfish to spawn a race of superbass.

In any bass population, only a tiny percentage have the genetic potential to attain giant sizes. Those fish are as statistically rare as humans who grow to be 6-foot-5 or larger.

The bass in the state program weigh at least 13 pounds and are donated by anglers. The lunkers have demonstrated abnormal growth potential. That potential is diluted, however, when the giant female bass is crossed with a male bass.

Biologists can stack the deck by using the largest male brooders they can find, but even big bass carry genes for small growth.

If scientists can take a huge bass and simply clone the fish without introducing outside genetics, won't the clones all have the potential to reach 20 pounds?

``We're not sure,'' Luebke said, ``but the clone would be closer to the original fish than any offspring you would get by crossbreeding.''

In an effort to create larger fish, Gary Garrett has altered the genetics of bass at Heart of the Hills.

Through laboratory manipulation, Garrett created a bass with an extra set of chromosomes. Most animals have two sets of chromosomes, one contributed by the father and one by the mother.

``Our theory with the triploid (three sets of chromosomes) bass was that a fish with extra cells would be genetically programmed to grow larger,'' Graham said.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 10, 1997
Words:454
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