|“||We are your biological imperative now.||”|
A human clone is the biologically and genetically identical being created through copying DNA fragments, cells, or organisms.
Clones are the central subject matter of the show Orphan Black. In the series, they seem to be called orphans during promotional statements or synopses. Also, the title of the series "Orphan Black" has a meaning that, according to the creators, is a clue in the unfolding mystery that may be connected to the clones and will be revealed at one point later in the series.
According to clues in the episode Entangled Bank & Parts Developed in an Unusual Manner, Orphan Black refers to orphans "in the black," hidden during the restrictive regime of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. In Sarah Manning's case, she was smuggled through the pipeline to avoid being subjected to medical experiments.
Also, the episode titles of the show convey certain observational terms that seem to imply that the clones' actions and differences because of "nurture," the concept that they will turn up differently because of their different environments, are being observed.
|“||Just one, I'm a few, no family, too. Who am I?
— Clone Club's counter-sign
Clone Club is a term used by Cosima and has since also been used in the real world to refer to the group of clones. The supposed "first rule" of the club is that outsiders, particularly non-clones, cannot know about the clones' existence. However, since Sarah joined the clone club, several people are in the know.
Although clones are supposed to be biologically identical, the clones in the show have differences in some portions of their genome. These portions have certain encoded, encrypted messages which translate into the clones' tag numbers, used to tell them apart, and the patent for their creation.
Apparently, the clones' mothers were either desperate for children and opted to undergo in-vitro fertilization, like Alison, Cosima, and Beth's parents, or were possibly women who were approached by scientists posing as couples who wanted children of their own but needed a surrogate, like Sarah and Helena's apparent birth mother, Amelia.
- As of Season 5, the identity of 274 clones from Project Leda have been confirmed, although the fragmented list featured in the season finale did not appear to include deceased clones, suggesting that the final number may be higher. Those featured in the Tv series or comics are shown below (in order of appearance):
A full list of named LEDA Clones is available here.
* Charlotte was created 20 years after the other clones from Project Leda, due to repeated attempts at making more clones from the same batch. According to Marion Bowles, Charlotte is the sole survivor of 400 attempts to recreate a clone from this batch.
§ Introduced in Orphan Black: Helsinki comic miniseries.
|“||We're brothers. We were taught to share.||”|
|“||This organism and derivative genetic material is restricted intellectual property.||”|
— The patent in the clones' genome
The female clones are the fruits of a series of illegal human cloning experiments known as Project LEDA, a scientific study from around 1977. Named after the mythical Leda, queen of Sparta and mother (with Zeus) of Helen of Troy, Castor and Pollux, the project was initially a military operation, circa 1977, before the Dyad Institute took over. The lead scientists, husband and wife team Professors Susan and Ethan Duncan were a part of one of an unknown number of implantation teams believed to be the clones' creators. It was deemed irresponsible to create clones capable of reproduction so, as a precaution, they were made barren. However, one clone, Sarah Manning (an apparent "failure"), was somehow capable of conceiving a child.
It was originally believed that the military shut Project LEDA down, but in actuality, it was only compartmentalized into two autonomous operations: Dyad carried biologically female clones to term and the military faction carried biologically male clones to term, the latter of which is known by the name Project CASTOR.
The source material for both the female Project LEDA and the male Project CASTOR clones was Kendall Malone, a woman who absorbed a male twin in the womb during gestation. Known as fetal resorption, this unusual trait meant that she carried both male and female cell lines. Ethan Duncan used Malone as the source for the male and female clones, but kept the source material hidden from his colleagues - including his wife, Susan Duncan.
The research is still ongoing, with most of the project's still under observation and study. While the male clones were raised self-aware and in the military, the female clones were not—thus monitors, usually under the guise of a partner or a friend, have been planted into the lives of the female clones with the objective of observing and keeping tabs on them and reporting on their conditions to a higher authority. The monitors are apparently ignorant of the real reasons why they are observing the subjects. They are kept in a "double blind," allowing the clones to make their own choices so they can't skew or affect the results of the experiments.
Research into the female clone line is apparently fronted by the Dyad Institute, with the monitors of female clones reporting either directly to research supervisors such as Donnie Hendrix (Alison's monitor) reporting to the then head of research at the Dyad Institute, Aldous Leekie, or indirectly such as Paul Dierden (Beth's monitor) answering to Olivier Duval, who in turn reported to Leekie. Research into the female clones is for the most part passive, to avoid making the clones self-aware. Data are generally passed on by observations made by monitors, although on occasion, medical tests were conducted without the knowledge of the subjects, such as in their sleep. Research includes exploring the infertility of most female clones and seeking a cure to the illness that has affected many of the female clones, including Katya, Cosima, and Jennifer, ultimately claiming the life of the latter.
Research into the male clone line is fronted by the military and conducted by Dr. Virginia Coady. As the CASTOR clones were self-aware, research was conducted directly with the clones. Coady could be brutal in her methods as noted with Parsons, a clone who had his skull removed to expose the brain while conscious. The research objective of the military was apparently to weaponize a genetic defect in the male clone line which causes seizures in the male clones and causes infertility in any women the male clones have sexual intercourse with.
The structure and relationship of each of the companies heading research into the clones is unclear. Officially, Neolution is a front for the Dyad institute, which in turn reports to Topside. However, in "History Yet to Be Written," it was revealed that Neolution has in fact infiltrated Dyad and Topside and they are the masters pulling the strings when it comes to research into the clones.
Both sides of the cloning project (Leda and Castor) have defects, some intentionally engineered into their DNA:
- The Leda clones are infertile. Additionally, an auto-immune disorder attacks their epithelial tissues, resulting in a terminal condition characterized by violent fits of coughing up blood and a general feeling of weakness over time.
- The Castor clones have a neurological disease that quickly makes the clones degenerate and causes intense episodes of vertigo and seizures. Another genetic defect in the male clone line is passing on their own defective protein that causes sterility in women they have sexual intercourse with.
The twins Sarah and Helena are special cases because both are somehow able to fight off these defects.
|“||She was just one of a few, unfit for family, horse glue.||”|
Years after their experiments, a group of crusaders calling themselves "Proletheans," has begun killing them off. One of them is Maggie Chen, who apparently helped create them. They are apparently religious fanatics, with a fish glyph, a universal symbol for fecundity, as their emblem.
While the Old World brotherhood used to be completely against the idea of synthetic biology, the age-old divide between science and religion has merged under the messianic vision of Henrik Johanssen. Under his leadership, the sect now believes in the righteousness of pushing biological advancements, as long as it is done in the name and under the commandments of God.
With them was another clone, Helena, whom they led to believe she was the original and who has since turned against them, as well as Mark Rollins, a Castor clone assigned to infiltrate the Prolethean compound after Henrik stole important genetic material from Project Castor.
|“||Don't know your mythology, do you, Cal?||”|
— Mrs. S
The cloning projects were aptly named after the Greek and Roman mythological figures Leda and Castor.
In Greek and Roman mythology, Castor and Pollux were twin brothers, together known as the Dioskouri. Their mother was Leda, but Castor was the mortal son of Tyndareus, the king of Sparta, and Pollux the divine son of Zeus, who seduced Leda in the guise of a swan. Though accounts of their birth are varied, they are sometimes said to have been born from an egg, along with their twin sisters: Helen of Troy and Clytemnestra.
Behind the Scenes
- Interview with Graeme Manson, question at 0:06 mark.