14 April 2015


Last month, I finally manage to watch a show for which I’d heard many positive things:Orphan Black.

If you have not see it, I highly recommend this show. I’m writing about it here on this blog because the show is about genetically identical females – much like Marmorkrebs.

There are so many striking things about this show. The performance of lead actress Tatiana Maslany is astonishing. But as a biologist, I was struck by how sophisticated the portrayal of the science is. The show is fortunate to have a very good scientific consultant, Cosima Herter, who shares a first name with one of the lead characters.

The show’s take on clones stands in a stark contrast to many other depictions of clones in pop culture. Whereas most stories emphasize the similarities of the clones, Orphan Black runs the opposite way, and hammers away at the differences of the women in the show. The individual characterization is so complete and so well thought through and so consistent that you continually forget that it is all performed by one person. (Two if you count the body double Kathryn Alexandre).

It reminded me of my post from several years ago about how one of the great things about Marmorkrebs was that you could see the differences between sisters that started with the same identical genetic materials.

As I thought about it, another recent show also emphasized that clones were individuals: Star Wars: The Clone Wars series. As the series progressed, it gave the clone troopers names. Different haircuts. Different insignia. In short, the clones stopped being interchangeable cannon fodder and became distinct characters.

Do these shows reflect a larger cultural shift in our thinking about how genetics affects our identities? Too soon to tell, but I find the different portrayals of genetically identical individuals fascinating.

A new season of Orphan Black starts this weekend. And I can’t wait.

Related posts

How Marmorkrebs can make the world a better place

External links

Meet the real Cosima, Orphan Black's science consultant: The Crazy Science Of Orphan Black

The real life science behind Orphan Black
The many faces of Tatiana Maslany
Meet The Woman (Besides Tatiana Maslany) Who Plays Every Single "Orphan Black" Clone

07 April 2015

Marmorkrebs: the Early Years

Chris Lukhaup was one of the co-authors of the paper that introduced Marmorkrebs to the scientific world (Scholtz et al. 2003). He has been active in describing many new species of crustaceans, often emerging from the pet trade (for example, Lukhaup & Pekny 2006, 2008). He takes stunning pictures. He recently contacted me with this bit of history about Marmorkrebs, which I share with his permission (lightly edited):

When I contacted Jay Huner in Louisiana back in 2000 to tell him that I believe that the Marmorkrebs is a parthenogenetic species, he wrote me back and told me that this is impossible! I sent him some animals to check and he wrote me back that this was Procambarus clarkii. ;-) Also he told me that I need to look better because there have to be males and I should learn the difference between males and females.

In 2002, I had my first articles in some aquarium magazines describing the animal and warning already. I wrote an article and offered $3000 for a person bringing me a male Marmorkrebs... this was published in several magazines but nothing happened. Then I went to the USA myself to collect, and I was pretty sure that the Marmorkrebs was very close to Procambarus fallax. I send some animals to Berlin and they approved it. So this is the story of the Marmorkrebs from my side.

Thank you for providing that bit of history!


Lukhaup C, Pekny R. 2006. Cherax (Cherax) holthuisi, a new species of crayfish (Crustacea: Decapoda: Parastacidae) from the centre of the Vogelkop Peninsula in Irian Jaya (West New Guinea), Indonesia. Zoologische Mededelingen 80(1): 101-107. http://www.repository.naturalis.nl/document/41228

Lukhaup C, Pekny R. 2008. Cherax (Astaconephrops) boesemani, a new species of crayfish (Crustacea: Decapoda: Parastacidae) from the centre of the Vogelkop Peninsula in Irian Jaya (West New Guinea), Indonesia. Zoologische Mededelingen 82: 331-340. http://www.zoologischemededelingen.nl/82/nr02/a33

Scholtz G, Braband A, Tolley L, Reimann A, Mittmann B, Lukhaup C, Steuerwald F, Vogt G. 2003. Parthenogenesis in an outsider crayfish. Nature 421(6925): 806-806. http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/421806a

External links

Chris Lukhaup on Facebook
Chris Lukhaup’s pictures on Flickr