Desirable DNA

dna-1811955_640Last year, scientists in Seoul, South Korea, approached Vanesa Semler of Dorado, Puerto Rico with an odd request. They wanted to know if they could clone her dog.

Semler’s furry friend Milly is very small, even for a Chihuahua. In fact, “Miracle Milly” holds the distinction of being the world’s smallest dog by height. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Milly stands 3.8 inches tall and weighs about one pound. Using 50-year-old cloning technology, nuclear transfer, technicians from the Sooam Biotech Research Foundation planned to compare Milly’s original DNA to that of her clone in order to determine what causes her small size.

By focusing on a single, distinctive characteristic the scientists hope to learn better how to identify the causes of other genetic markers. The lessons they learn from Milly and her clones could pave the way to one day preventing various birth defects and genetic predisposition to disease.

Despite how you feel about the idea of cloning, I’ll bet there are attributes of certain people you know that you wish you could duplicate. Managers will often tell me how they would love to transfer the skills and personality traits of one employee to some of the others. And as a customer, there have been many times when, after interacting with a service provider, I’ve thought “I wish everyone who worked here was like this.”

I think these scientists may have a lesson to teach us about replicating desirable traits. Consider how they’re going about it.

  1. They zeroed in. The cloning experiment is focused on just one of Milly’s traits – her size. Eye color doesn’t matter. Neither does the texture of her fur or the sound of her growl. By identifying a single attribute, scientists are able to devote all of their energy to the same issue, and they are much more likely to succeed.

    What’s the single most important trait you wish you could multiply in your team?

  2. They dug in. Initially, the South Korean scientists asked for a 10 clones; nine to research and one for the owner. They quickly expanded the request, producing an initial litter of 12 puppies. To date, 49 clones have been produced; allowing them to study multiple sources for the same DNA markers and to see whether small differences impact the result. In the end, they hope to crack the code and be able apply their findings to other animals.

    How much time and effort do you devote to understanding the drivers behind team performance?

  3. They started with the best. When looking for a basis to compare their results to, the techs from Sooam didn’t pick just any dog, they decided to go with the record-holder. Milly represents an outlier in terms of dog height. They just don’t come any shorter than her. Choosing Milly ensures a strong benchmark for their tests.

    Who represents the absolute best in terms of the behavior you’re looking to duplicate?

The experiment is far from over. Specialists at the Beijing Genomics Institute have been called to collaborate on the next phase of the study. Milly’s clones all have the same eyes and markings on their coat, but they are all slightly different in height. Semler sees other similarities as well. The new dogs are “amazing to be around….they are all so smart, very playful. They are sweet and loving.” Maybe the experiment was a success after all.