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Clone Degeneration
Always make sure the mechanism is clear of paper jams before copying.
"You know how when you make a copy of a copy, it's not as sharp as, well, the original?"
Doug Kinney #3, Multiplicity

When dealing with fiction that clones things, the assumption is often made that clones must, after time, decay. That is, with each copy you make whatever Applied Phlebotinum you are using to create the clones will either decrease in effectiveness, or the clones themselves become less coherent since eventually everything is just a copy of a copy. This goes double for dead clones, who tend to dissolve because they're "less than human" rather than leave a proper corpse.

When dealing with a character who has the ability to create clones apparently out of thin air, this weakness is usually the only thing holding them back from whatever it is they're trying to do.

Uses very similar logic to Super Prototype and Conservation of Ninjutsu. The Super Prototype, when it is a one-of-a-kind machine, is awesome and unstoppable. Clones, likewise, seem really great at first— but the more of them you get, the more common and boring the idea of a clone is in the first place. As a result, they inevitably lose effectiveness because several copies of the same thing just wouldn't be all that interesting.

In some instances it may be a Justified Trope: the creator may "program" a shortened lifespan into the clone to protect their property from getting away. Relatedly, the degeneration may be because the process used to make the clone resulted in a Flawed Prototype, making all the clones a form of Keystone Army that will croak on some future date or circumstance. If the hero has qualms about killing clones, their degeneration lays them to rest. Whether out of being a Mercy Kill or making them seem less real varies.

See also Power Degeneration, which also applies to clones designed with powers. Compare Possession Burnout, when being possessed damages the host in a sometimes accelerated manner each time it's done.

Note that this trope does have some grounding in Real Life: Cloning isn't a fully documented science yet, and genetic kinks in the cloning process, such as shortened telomeres and genomic imprinting, remain factors that may lead to clones having shorter life expectancies than their originals. Clones of clones tend to be even worse off.

Note, this is not the same as a Degenerate Clone.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Ah! My Goddess:
    • In the "Adventures of the Mini-Goddesses'' manga, one of the goddesses is able to make a duplicate of herself, which can make a duplicate of herself, etc, each of which is a bit shorter and squishier than its parent. In the main series, goddesses and demons can also divide themselves into avatars — smaller, less powerful versions of themselves. Before leaving, Hild splits off a 1/1000 avatar of herself in the form of a child to keep track of things on Earth. In chapter 248, her 1/1000 avatar then splits off a 1/1000 avatar which takes the form of a small crystal.
    • The main manga and series feature a clone of Urd. The Urd clone can use all the same magic as Urd, but her inferior body can't handle the stress.
  • Clones in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED tend to have physical or mental problems. Case in Point: Rau Le Cruset.
    • Another example would be Prayer Reverie in the Astray mangas, who was okay in the head, but was basically an Ill Girl for most of the Astray X series, and was able to convincingly fake a death of "natural causes" at the apparent age of nine
  • This is the reason why Zest Grangaitz of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS was considered an imperfect Artificial Mage. He got the memories, abilities, and personality of the original, but his body was suffering from severe health problems.
    • Averted with Fate Testarossa, who appears completely healthy over a decade and a half after her creation, as well as Erio Mondial, who has been alive for at least a decade as of Force.
      • Fate is an interesting example. Although she has none of the issues seen in this trope, she isn't a perfect clone, either. Changes in personality, which hand is dominant, and other small details mark her as a distinctly unique individual, which led to her ultimate classification as 'failed clone' despite the fact that her incredible raw magical aptitude perhaps make her even better than the original. Although that was because her creator wanted a Replacement Goldfish and didn't care about anything else.
  • In Fate/stay night, Ilya will eventually die young because of her nature as a modified homunculi Holy Grail.
  • In her last few scenes in Neon Genesis Evangelion, Rei Ayanami's limbs had a tendency to ... fall off. Her body, being a mishmash of Lilith and Yui's DNA, isn't capable to holding together without Rei's AT field to counter the effects of imperfect cloning. After expending so much of her energy to counter Kaworu the previous day, she can't hold herself together.
  • The Sisters in A Certain Magical Index have to go through body adjustments specifically to prevent this. Justified because they were only made so that Accelerator could kill them.
  • In the Ghost in the Shell universe, it is possible for people to 'clone' their ghosts (what amounts to their souls) by copying the memory data of their cyberbrains, however this process leads to the eventual corruption of both the original and the copies created, and ultimately leads to the death of the original. As a result, the process, known as "ghost dubbing," is highly illegal, punishable by life in prison or brain-wipe.
  • In the fifth Kara no Kyoukai movie, Enjou learns of his clone status the hard way. And then his arm falls off.
  • Negi of Mahou Sensei Negima! employs several paper doll clones of himself in chapter 36, without knowing exactly how it works. This trope ensues...
  • Naruto can create up to a couple thousand copies of himself, but they dispel whenever they take a direct hit. He also doesn't trust them enough to let them out of his sight, which suggests that they're not as smart as the original. Which is saying something, considering who we're dealing with.
    • Given how they can fight against each other, they're probably capable of independent thought and, given Naruto's natural rebelliousness, prone to disobeying.
      • By the time of manga chapter 550 his clones have received a sizeable upgrade, becoming capable of taking out Kage-level opponents on their own without the original present.
      • In the special chapter, which happens before the beginning of the Road to Ninja movie, Naruto plays a card game with two clones. Naruto claims if he or one of his clones wins, he says they all win since they are him. The clones think otherwise about it. After they vanished, even Naruto is confused if he actually lost or won.
  • The Mystery of Mamo plays this straight, when Mamo reveals towards the end that even his methods of cloning to reach immortality come with their limits.
    Dying Mamo clone: The transfer of the chromosomal data is never accomplished with complete fidelity. There are anomalies, infectiously small in each case, with accumulative effect of such chaotic pollution, can be observed after only a dozen or so generations and what you see before you is a 130th generation facsimile. I am but a faint, distorted echo of myself.
    Lupin: But you are always distorted by your obsession.
    Dying Mamo clone: But is it not... everyone's obsession?
  • In the manga of Lost Universe, this is the fate of Anise, who was created as a clone of Kane's grandmother, Alisia. Or at least, it would have been if it hadn't been for her using the Swordbreaker's ultimate attack and disappearing forever.

    Comics 
  • Palpatine's clones in Star Wars Dark Empire suffer from this. As each generation is less natural than the last, they have diminishing ability to withstand the detrimental effects of his Dark Side powers, resulting in shorter and shorter lifespans before they burn out. This is in part because one of his guards betrayed him and sabotaged the cloning machine.
  • This is how Bizarro is often depicted in The DCU.
  • Spider-Man: Every clone created by the Jackal was subject to this. Some of them were almost identical to the originals but aged / disfigured, while others would last so long and then spontaneously collapse into a pile of mush - Jackal triggered this in his "mini-me", Jack, as punishment for giving Ben Reilly information. It even drove one, Kaine, insane. Ben Reilly succumbed to it when he died. (And in Spider-Girl, passed it onto his kid.)
  • Slo-Bo from Young Justice admitted to suffering from this near the end of the series. He would have died soon anyway had Darkseid not Omega Beamed him. Might have been preferable.
  • In a crossover of Simpsons Comics and Bartman, Celebrity Troy McClure gained the radiation explosion created identity of "The Sequelizer". His sequel-generating powers allowed him to create duplicates of himself, but each copy was only half as strong as the previous one.
  • Judge Dredd Total War. Nimrod is a Dredd clone that has been modified with super senses. However, neural decay happens frequently with genetically modified clones and Nimrod has seizures a lot. And Mega City One's cloning programme is the world's most advanced. Soviet clones are apparently subject to Sturgeon's Law.
  • Azrael buys it from a combination of this (he was artificially engineered and grown) and poison bullets, but they Never Found the Body and it's implied he Ascended to a Higher Plane of Existence.
  • In Madman, Dr. Flem tries to clone himself. Because of the chemicals that he uses to try and make the clones grow more rapidly, almost all of them end up going berserk. For added horror, one of them bites him, infecting him with a disease that ravages his body.

    Film 
  • The Nexus 6 generation of replicants in Blade Runner, though potentially physically and mentally superior to humans, have four year life expectancies thanks to kill switches designed into their genes. Their creator describes it as a "light that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and you have burned so very brightly". The androids of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, upon which the movie was loosely based, have a similar life expectancy, but this is due to technological limitations.
  • This is probably why Boba Fett is an effective bounty hunter instead of a simple Stormtrooper - as the first clone of Jango Fett, having been raised as a son, he maintained a unique spirit.
    • However, it was explicitly said that the clone troopers had been slightly modified, most notably to be more obedient and age twice as fast. Boba Fett was explicitly an unmodified clone of Jango.
    • However he still gets cancer because of this and even with the treatment he gets has at best five years. Five years from his diagnosis with cancer, mind you, closer to sixty-five years after his production.
    • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe comic series Dark Empire, The Emperor died with the second Death Star, but had clones stashed away somewhere, and about ten years later he reemerged as head of The Empire. Since he was skilled with the Dark Side and all, he could Body Surf through the clones, taking up from where he left off. However, his stored genes had been sabotaged, making it so that none of the clone bodies could last very long. And it got worse for him when some traitorous Mooks killed most of the stored clones.
    • Problems also occur with the Spaarti cloning cylinders which appear in The Thrawn Trilogy. A clone that is aged too quickly succumbs to what gets termed "clone madness," leaving them insane, and which proved to be a major problem during the Clone Wars. Thrawn eventually discovers that this is caused by some strange interaction with the Force as the clone matures, and growing the clones in an environment completely devoid of the Force such as that created by the salamander-like ysalamiri (or at least, one where the Force is suppressed, it seems to vary widely within the literature how exactly it works) will prevent the deterioration.
  • The Michael Keaton film Multiplicity, about a man who has himself cloned, has one of the clones cloned, and he came out rather... special.
  • "GEFs", clone bodies used for hazardous occupations in the movie XChange, have a life span of only three days, after which they begin rapidly decomposing. Naturally, the protagonist gets stuck in one that's already been alive for two days. The villain ends up in this body just as its time runs out—then appears not to dying at first because its timer is a few minutes off.
    • Same with the clones in the original novel Mindswap by Robert Sheckley, on which the movie is very loosely based.
  • Moon (2009). Each Sam Bell clone begins to break down physically and emotionally after three years. It's not clear whether this is a limitation of the cloning process or a built-in fail-safe in case the clones discover their true nature. Either way each clone believes they're the real Sam Bell, and after putting themselves in the hibernation chamber for return to Earth are painlessly incinerated and replaced by another Sam Bell who believes he's at the beginning of his three-year contract on the Moon.
  • Word of God for Primer states that doubles created via Time Travel are imperfect copies. This is the reason for Aaron and Abe's earbleeds and the degradation of their handwriting when they begin altering their past.

    Literature 
  • In David Brin's novel, Kiln People, humans are able to create duplicates of themselves that are fashioned from a type of clay. The duplicates, called golems or "dittoes", possess the memories of their original from the time of their creation, but degrade after a day. Before this happens, golems are able to reintegrate their accumulated memories with their original using a special device.
  • Invoked in F.M. Busby's Rissa Kerguelen series. The Hulzein clan learns through painful experience that they have to alternate cloned generations with ones produced the normal way, or else they wind up with mentally unstable kids—which, given the resources and intelligence levels that all the Hulzeins possess, is just a bad idea for everyone.
  • In William Sleator's The Duplicate, the duplicates are less sane the farther they are from the original. They also get black markings on their hands shortly before they die, but they tend to go crazy and get themselves killed before that step occurs.
  • In Suzanne Weyn's The Bar Code Rebellion, several clones are made of a single woman, each one with more and more bird DNA added to them. The first few are somewhat normal, though with notable strange behaviors and abilities. Once we reach the fifth clone, KM-5, it's become quite clear that the more bird DNA they possess, the crazier they are. The final clone, KM-6, is extremely weak, thin, and pale, and speaks only in bursts of birdlike noise.
  • Though technically not because of being a clone, (and not actually being a "clone" in the strictest sense) Bean of the Ender's Shadow series is this because of Anton's Gene being activated in him, which makes him smarter because his brain and body never stop growing at the cost of becoming a giant and eventual death.
  • Who Censored Roger Rabbit?: Toons can make duplicates of themselves for doing stunts, but the duplicates are very short-lived.
  • The novel Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang centers around this, in a way. A post-apocalyptic society rendered sterile by disease discovers that, though clones do display this in the form of sterility after a few generations, they actually reverse the trend after a few more. The society uses this to attempt to set up a sustaining population of fertile humans.
    • The clones display a form of this in another way, as well. After deciding that cloning is superior to sexual reproduction and building a society based around the health of the group and the destruction of the individual, they find that the younger clone generations lose the ability for abstract thought, to the point where the youngest generations are incapable of drawing maps or devising solutions for problems.
  • The Styx Drones from Colony are this. Each batch suffers from further deterioration of intelligence, leaving the present batch Too Dumb to Live.
  • In The True Meaning of Smekday, the Gorg, having reproduced via cloning, have degraded from superstrong aliens with Nigh-Invulnerability to superstrong aliens with a severe cat allergy.
  • Meiosis of The Reckoners Trilogy can clone himself an infinite number of times, but the clones grow molecularly unstable if too many exist at any one time.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, this is what will inevitably doom one planet. The founders, reduced to five in number because of a spacecraft accident, had to resort to cloning themselves in order to have a sustainable population. When they try to "solve" (ultimately, just delay) the problem by getting clones of Riker and Doctor Pulaski, the Starfleet officers are not particularly happy with it. (Episode: "Up the Long Ladder")
  • Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis love this trope. The Asgard, O'Neills clone, Beckett's clone, take whatever you want.
    • Though Beckett's cellular degeneration issues were eventually solved, effectively making him the original Back from the Dead.
    • Also note that in the case of O'Neill's clone, the degeneration is a case of having You Have Outlived Your Usefulness literally encoded in his genes. In fact, he's overcome with pain within minutes of being recovered by Loki.
    • Kull Warriors are created in nonliving form and animated via Ancient technology They live for several days or weeks, though they're extremely hard to kill before their time.
    • There is a bit of Fridge Logic there, as the Asgard should've anticipated that their clones would degrade after millennia of copying copies. Apparently, in a case of No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup, they did not keep an original DNA somewhere. This is actually a plot point in a later episode, where they recover an original Asgard and try to gain his DNA. This fails spectacularly.
      • And even that wasn't an original Asgard. They had already started cloning themselves by that point. It's just that their bodies still looked like 6-foot tall grey hairless humans with big heads instead of their tiny, childlike forms with misshapen features.
      • In fact, the idea of preserving the original or the closest to the original to clone from (from which billions can be created) to prevent degeneration as a result of clone of a clone never seems to occur to those that hit this trope anywhere in science fiction.
  • The single-clone degeneration is addressed but ultimately averted in Farscape. When Crichton is "twinned" during season three, the Mad Scientist Kaarvok claims that the resulting duplicates are "equal and original," with no defects or imperfections. However, in a later episode, one of the two Crichtons experiences spontaneous bleeding and blackouts, leading him to believe this is at work: fortunately, it's just the villain of the week causing chaos across Moya. As one of the Crichtons has died in a Heroic Sacrifice and the other has suffered no ill effects it can be assumed that Kaarvok was correct. However, the multiple-clone degeneration is used in the episode Kaarvok was introduced in, specifically in the form of the feral, degenerate remains of the crew of the ship he'd been imprisoned aboard. Apparently after "twinning" the twin of a twin and so on a certain amount of error did emerge.
  • In an episode of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids that seems to have been losely based on Multiplicity, Wayne creates a molecular duplication machine that has the side effect of making the target's molecules unstable, causing them to create more duplicates whenever they are bumped hard against something or jolted. This results in a good number of extra Waynes, nearly all of which are a bit dense. This is explained as the clones having Wayne's knowledge, but none of his practical experience - when Wayne tells his duplicate that the moon's made of green cheese, he buys it, even though he always thought it was made of various strata of rocks and magma around an iron core. "Why are my clones such dorks?"
  • On Orphan Black, many of the clones suffer from a mysterious lung disease and all but two of them are infertile as far as anyone knows.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The fetches of Changeling: The Lost are always missing something of the personality they were meant to replace. It could be a negative trait (quickness to anger) or a positive trait (dedication to a task), but there's always going to be something missing.
  • Paranoia XP has this as a mechanic in order to convince characters to try not to get killed quite as much (if the GM is letting the PCs buy clones rather than simply going through a 6-pack and then handing out new sheets.) After the first seven or so, things start to go south in a hurry, with extra fingers, hideous deformity, and (worst of all in Alpha Complex) colour blindness. Luckily, BLUE-clearance PCs can pay to have the template cleaned up. Others have to depend upon secret societies and underhanded business that may well result in termination for treason.

    Video Games 
  • This is the reason you don't make copies of AIs in the Halo universe. In the First Strike novel, Cortana used alien technology to create new (slightly flawed) instances of herself in a Covenant warship so she could be in two places at once. The copies made copies. The copies of the copies made copies. The quickly-growing swarm of AIs started forking off copies for specialized tasks, having those copies be overwhelmed by Covvie AIs, and spinning off more copies. Eventually the alien ship filled its computers to the roof with Cortana clones, segfaulted, and blew up.
    • Though the "blowing up" part was entirely deliberate. Even as flawed as the copies were, they still managed to complete their mission. What's really wacky is that it's implied that Cortana got the copy program from one of her own (completely insane) time-lost copies, thanks to the presence of a Forerunner time-manipulation device.
    • This also applies to human clones. Individual organs can be cloned and used for transplants without a problem, it's when you clone the whole body do things go south. The flash clones (which are the only method of cloning seen in the Halo universe) is where the clones are aged up to the person who supplied the DNA. The clone will have the mind of an infant, given that it has zero memories, and the body will deteriorate and quickly die within a couple months. Apparently the cloned body's metabolism just can't stabilize itself correctly. The procedure is highly illegal.
      • Clones were used to cover up the Spartan-II project. ONI took the children, and gave the parents flash clones. As far as any of the parents could guess, their children inexplicably went into a vegetative state and died from an unknown disease.
      • In Halo: Glasslands, it's implied that the whole incident, when revealed to the public, will be put squarely on Dr. Halsey's shoulders, even though such a task would require dozens of people to participate, not to mention the approval of the top ONI management. Then again, what politicians and bureaucrats are known for is covering their asses and finding scapegoats.
    • "Smart" AIs are usually created by brain-scanning dead people, though Cortana herself was created from the flash-cloned brain of the still-alive Dr. Halsey. After a period of roughly seven years, all "Smart" AIs will eventually accumulate so much information that they basically think themselves to death; during this terminal phase, the AI falls into a state of "rampancy" in which it develops both "delusions of godlike power" and utter contempt for its mentally inferior makers.
      • Oh, and guess how long Cortana has been active as of Halo 4.
      • The novel Halo: The Cole Protocol also demonstrates a "Smart" AI past its lifespan. Juliana, the AI of Rubble (a conglomeration of hollowed-out asteroids joined by tubes), has been active for at least 8 years and is definitely showing signs of instability. The only thing keeping Juliana "sane" is her primary task of keeping Rubble from breaking apart and protecting the people living there. After Rubble is evacuated (the Covvies are about to show up), Juliana stays with it, as she no longer has anything to keep her from going into full rampancy. The novel also establishes that it's common among humans to indicate that an AI is going into rampancy by showing "seven" with their fingers. Oh, and the AIs also know the gesture, and Juliana gets pissed off when a SPARTAN shows it to his team.
  • Solid Snake, Liquid Snake, and Solidus Snake from Metal Gear Solid are clones of Big Boss. Liquid got killed off prior to degeneration, however Solidus aging has accelerated to the point he looks like someone in his sixties or seventies, he's actually in his thirties, but by Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Solid Snake's aging has accelerated to the point where Big Boss himself looks younger than he does. Compounding this, he goes through a truly horrific gauntlet throughout the game. And yet, he still gets the job done. Unlike some other cases, this degeneration was deliberate. The clones were made with genetic flaws designed to limit their lifespan in hopes of keeping them under The Patriots' control.
  • Tales of the Abyss features this, along with everything else from the Cloning Blues vat. But since this is a Tales game, it plays around with the trope too: it turns out that getting a clone made can cause just as many problems to the original as it does to the copy. In the best case, the original develops severe health problems after a while. In the worst, the original dies as soon as the data required to create a clone in the first place is extracted.
    • Actually, in the best case, the replica is weaker but there is no particular degeneration in the original. In the very worst case, however, that of complete isofons, a different effect occurs. The original and replica are so entirely identical that both gradually begin to destabilize due to the interference of their matching fonon frequencies. Eventually, one or both will die, and their fonons merge, creating an individual with the memories of both the original and the replica. This is what the universe's physics says happened to Luke fon Fabre at the end of the game, according to some easily-missable sidequests with Jade.
  • This is the premise of Destroy All Humans!. The Blisk had mutated Furon DNA so that they can't propagate due to lack of genitalia. Fortunately, they perfected the art of cloning, rendering them virtually immortal. Unfortunately, each new clone has degraded Furon DNA, making the results more unpredictable and eventually leading to the extinction of the Furon race. Fortunately, this could be fixed via infusion of uncorrupted DNA, and a Furon mothership happened upon another planet eons earlier and frolicked with the planets' inhabitants, giving their descendants Furon DNA. Unfortunately for us but fortunately for them, that planet is Earth.
  • Not necessarily clones, but close enough: In the Legacy of Kain series, Kain used parts of his soul to resurrect a group of long-dead Sarafan warrior priests as his lieutenants, each receiving a smaller part of his soul than the last, which would directly affect their evolution in vampiric unlife: Raziel received the most of his soul and evolved the quickest, while Melchiah received the smallest part, making his body vulnerable to decay.
  • This may explain why Taokaka from BlazBlue is so very odd. Though the rest of the Kaka clan, also clones of Jubei seem more put together.
  • The God of The Neverhood eventually ended up creating the whole world's population this way. He was trying to duplicate himself, but the duplicate just assumed that he was really God, and went through the whole process all over again. This continued until eventually a duplicate was created that was not alive.
    • That was just one God of one world that was not the Neverhood. The Neverhood itself was created by someone who took the opposite approach and personally crafted each thing to be completely unique and everlasting.
  • Fallout 3 gives us Vault 108, which contains nothing but very aggressive clones. Notes left throughout the vault state that the first clone was fine, but copies made after that became more violent the farther they were from the original.
  • Alluded to in Star Wars: Republic Commando whenever the player performs some suicidally dumb action.
    Scorch: Maybe 38's a copy of a copy of a copy...
  • Justified in the usual manner in Dystopia, where clones are given a maximum life span of about 20 minutes, and their bodies decay very rapidly. This prevents enemies from finding any of the technology hidden in their bodies or any information hidden in their brains. In addition, combat clones are hastily assembled from cheap materials in about 15 seconds; and normal clones can take a few weeks to build but are intended for use by soldiers after they shed their combat clone bodies. At least, that's what they're promised by their employers.
  • Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core is a prequel, giving us background on stuff like why Sephiroth went crazy and destroyed Cloud's hometown. A huge part of it turns out to be the emotional blows he suffered when losing his two closest friends to Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal against Shinra; the primary mistreatment in this case being that Shinra had created them via genetic hacking and then, at some point in their thirties, their bodies started to break down. And that was when they found out they weren't just naturally talented best friends from Banora, where the scientist running the project apparently retired after Hojo got all the funding in order to make Sephiroth.
    • Genesis, the one who actually went Ax-Crazy, may have minded that Sephiroth was perfect and the project that wasn't abandoned as much as the dying part. Never mind that Project G being mostly-canceled meant he got a childhood; he had a Green-Eyed Monster problem.
    • The degeneration condition is like this, but Angeal and Genesis aren't actually clones, as such. Angeal may even be his mother's natural son, she just messed with her own body so much to get the cells to make Genesis that he came out weird. Or not. (Incidentally, this means Angeal and Genesis are at least 1/3 brothers, which is not a fraction that's possible in nature and which also makes the fact that they're a popular ship a lot squickier.)
  • Your uncle in Quantum Conundrum cloned his cat after its death. The first iteration was okay, but the third iteration earned the nickname "Derp".
    Quadwrangle: I want to clarify that DOLLI is great for cloning inanimate objects, but she's not entirely capable with organic ones.
  • Several gangs and factions in Saints Row: The Third have clones of a hugely muscular man that is so strong and large that the clones can shrug off most weaponry, vehicular assaults, and explosions, which would make them perfect candidates for gang warfare. Because the cloning process hasn't been perfected, all the clones lack intelligence and are nothing more than mindless monsters.
    • And in stark contrast, the original one, Oleg Kirrlov, is pretty much a Genius Bruiser.
  • The Grineer Empire in Warframe collectively suffers from it, due to every single Grineer being a clone of a clone of "perfection" birthed in industrial quantitites. Their degeneration is so bad that they have to use extensive cybernetics to survive; Grineer soldiers almost always have cybernetic feet, and the only thing left of the Grineer Councilor Vay Hek is his (visibly cracking and flaking) face and lungs.

    Web Animation 
  • In The Demented Cartoon Movie, this problem plagues Evil Blah's Auto-Damsel-Maker, ultimately resulting in a damsel who's a little... weird.
  • While it's not really cloning, per se, the Texas Drones in Red vs. Blue are nowhere near at the level of the original Texas/Allison/Beta, who in no small way, kicked EVERYBODY'S ass. Carolina takes down several of them with the assistance of Epsilon-Church, and the Reds, Blues and Wash show up just in time to help take down the rest.

    Webcomics 
  • Meta example: any sufficiently popular webcomic will inevitably spawn imitators, which are generally not as good as the original. The more popular ones in turn will eventually spawn their own imitators, which are even worse. The most famous example of this is Penny Arcade, which started off the Two Gamers on a Couch Trope.
  • The space arc version of the False Guenevere storyline in Arthur, King of Time and Space suffered this, paralleling the illness of the one in the fantasy arc.
  • Lampshaded in this strip from The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!, where Molly's clone Galatea insists on using Molly's tissues for an experiment rather than her own.
  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja the doctor uses this to explain why killing off all his clones wasn't as bad as it seems, because the clones created with the old process were highly unstable. To illustrate this he shows a video where clone of Benjamin Franklin made with that technology accidentally kills himself by biting too hard into a sandwich. Which causes the top of his head to fall off.
  • In Kevin & Kell, Corrie's clone, Dolly, begins Rapid Aging as a result of being a clone. Dolly becomes concerned about how her adoptive parents (who don't know she's a clone) will feel about this, so Corrie switches with Dolly, who poses as her birth mother to take her away. An accident with a Time Machine results in Dolly reverting to a baby, which gives her a fresh start on life even if her rapid aging resumes (which is somewhat unlikely to happen, given how little time progresses in the strip).
  • Subverted in El Goonish Shive, when Elliot accidentally creates a female version of himself, dubbed Ellen. Ellen realizes that the effect that led to her creation was only intended to last a month, and decides to become Elliot's greatest rival and villain. Shortly after this completely fails, she learns that she won't die after a month, and is offered a life as Elliot's twin sister, which she gladly accepts. She's been a part of the main cast ever since.
  • In a Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger arc that parodies Star Trek, Quentyn refuses to beam down, partly (though hardly primarily) because he doesn't trust the "disintegrating fax machine" to make a perfect copy each time. The Captain cluelessly introduces him to a Red Shirt who has gone through it many times. It shows.

    Web Original 
  • While watching Clones of Bruce Lee, Spoony points out the logic gap in the mad professor cloning Bruce Lee several times, only to demand they fight to prove who's the strongest. He points this out while sharing a sofa with two of his other characters.
    Chester D. Bum: It's kinda like when they cloned Jango Fett, and turned him into all those Stormtroopers, only they were kinda lame.
    Dr. Insano: This is why I prefer robots to cloning. Clones are crap! It's like filling out a form in triplicate but only getting to keep the pink copy.
  • SCP-038, an apple tree that grows clones like fruit of whatever touches it's bark. Human and animal clones age rapidly and only last about two weeks.
  • With the Secret Door short of Rooster Teeth, Gavin is cloned to improve efficiency, but when they find out, they're bound and gagged, and thrown into the closet. When Gavin finds out, they throw him in there, but remember they need the original, otherwise the clones will degenerate.
    Gus: Oh fuck! We need the original out here so we can make another clone!
    Burnie: Oh, right. Gotta go from the source, otherwise the copy DNA gets bad.
    • Averted in their flagship series, Red vs. Blue, which is based on the Halo series. In season 6, Church is revealed to be Alpha, a smart AI created from the mind of Dr. Leonard Church, the director of Project Freelancer. Alpha was tortured by his creators until it went crazy, shedding parts of his mind into AI fragments, and using the Director's lingering memories to rebuild his mind. An exact timeline hasn't been given, but a line from Tucker in season 8 about the teams fighting each other for eight years, suggests that Alpha-Church was alive for longer the seven year life-span of smart AIs before it was erased by an EMP. The surviving fragment Epsilon, which has since assumed the Church identity, has existed even longer, and has been confirmed by Word of God to have become Metastable.

    Western Animation 
  • The "Treehouse of Horror XIII" segment "Send in the Clones" on The Simpsons has Homer with a cloning mechanism which results in him creating duplicates who are progressively dumber than he is. Eventually they get to be so stupid that one of them is Peter Griffin. Special mention should be made that the surviving Homer is a clone. The original Homer, who knew of the plot to fly a fake giant donut over a cliff to have the clones runs after it and off the cliff, was the first one off the cliff.
  • This seemed to be inherent to present-day cloning in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003). In the fourth season of the show, it was revealed that Agent Bishop's body was slowly degenerating, and therefore needed to transfer his mind to a new one, which eventually happened, dissolving skin and all. Later on, Baxter Stockman cloned himself a new body to replace the one he had systematically lost during the course of the series, only to find it decaying as well.
    • Done with the incomplete April clones in the later series, as they tend to turn into black goo when damaged, and one "reject" (who the turtles call "April Derp") is a giant monstrosity with extra heads and mouths. However, these were incomplete clones created from partial DNA, and presumably, if the Kraang managed to get their hands on her complete DNA sequence, these issues would not occur.
  • In Exo Squad, Neosapiens ran a risk of contracting a disease where their bodies decompose, seeing as it's entire species is a clone race, it made coming Back from the Dead via implanted memory recordings a bit of a gamble.
  • The Ring of the Nine Dragons from Xiaolin Showdown can divide one person into at most nine, but their intelligence is also divided, so in the end, you have nine people with only a ninth of your intelligence... and getting them back together is really hard.
    • The notable thing said ring is that it only does this to your average person while Jack Spicer's clones were at least able to operate like normal people except for one bad one and demons are apparently immune as Mala Mala Jong's clones didn't display any differing behavior from the original.
  • In the rather bizarre miniseries House Of Cosbys, the Bill Cosby clones get increasingly bizarre defects, however the main character keeps making them as every tenth Cosby has superpowers. Unfortunately, Cosby #100 happens to be pure evil.
  • In an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Frylock reveals that he's been cloning televisions every time the other Aqua Teens destroy one. Eventually the latest television they make turns evil. Later in the episode the Aqua Teens clone a dollar bill and eventually end up making George Washington out of dollar bills. This is also why their television (and so many other objects around the house) explodes with the slightest jostling.
  • Men In Black the Animated Series has Quick Clones. Each clone was indistinguishable from the original, but after time, the clone would begin speaking nonsensically before melting into a pile of goo. The time until melting varied based on stress and physical exertion. Alternatively, any clone could be terminated by pushing a button located behind the ear.
  • In The Jetsons, George had a clone made in one episode, only to find it could do stuff far better than him. He wanted to leave his life to the clone but it turned out that the clone has a very limited lifespan.
  • Danny Phantom's Opposite-Sex Clone Danni Phantom melts whenever she uses her superpowers. She gets better.
  • An experiment in Lilo & Stitch: The Series has this when Stitch get hit by it duplicating ray making extra copies of himself. His creator, Jumba, explains that the more duplicates there are the more their strength is divided between them. Lilo uses this later against Gantu when he get a hold of the experiment and tries to create an army with the experiments he's captured. But they're all pathetically weak that the heroes easily waltz right through em.
  • Drakken tried this in Kim Possible making "clones" (the show admits it isn't really cloning but called that for simplicity) of Kim, Ron, Rufus and Bonnie and modifying them to be mindless attack drones. It works till its revealed they're weak against soda, dissolving into green puddles when its sprayed on them. Later on they get renamed "synthodrones", which becomes a major plot point of the movie.
  • In The Flintstones, Fred was cloned by an alien in one episode. The clones were very much like real people, and are never seen physically degenerating, but were little more than mindless mooks, incapable of anything other than following their creator's orders, causing trouble and saying Fred's catchphrase in a very monotonous fashion.
  • A very Squicky version happens in Family Guy. Stewie has decided to clone himself, creating "Bitch Stewie," a deformed, moronic servant to the original. Later, Stewie makes one of Brian, which is arguably more messed up. Eventually, both clones melt into a pile of disgusting, fleshy goo.
    Brian: I'm not proud of this, but, I have to lick that up.
  • The Gravity Falls episode "Double Dipper" had Dipper make use of a magic copy machine when he needed a few extra hands. This works fine until he gets a paper jam on the fourth clone, resulting in a lumpy, wrinkled version of himself that speaks in incomprehensible "NYANG NYANG NYANG!" sounds.
  • In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, "Too Many Pinkie Pies", Pinkie uses the reflection in a magic pool to clone herself (and that clone clones herself, and those clones clone themselves...). All the clones look identical to the original Pinkie, but behave like flat, exaggerated versions of the original.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy episode "Mandy the Merciless", in the future Mandy has achieved immortality and became ruler of the world, and keeps clones of Billy around. When the newest clone is incapable of noticing that Mandy is now an enormous half-worm half-human hybrid Grim comments that they get dumber with each cloning.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television: Some speculate that this occurred with the cloned sheep Dolly, that she died early due to being born with a genetic age of six. The Roslin Institute disagrees, however.
    • Distressingly, an attempt to revive the extinct Pyrenean Ibex succumbed to lung problems (in this case shortly after birth) which is also what killed Dolly.
    • Apparently, aged cells have shorted telomeres compared to new ones, which means that they won't be able to replicate as much as a "newborn" cell will over its life time. Besides that, DNA is unstable and only stays mostly intact when you're alive, so the extraction and freezing processes to preserve it actually damage it. Since the last Pyrenean Ibex died in 2000 and the clone wasn't made until 2009 (and even the first attempts was in 2003), there was little chance that the DNA would even be viable anymore.
  • Most parthenogenetic species in nature do retain the capacity for sexual reproduction, often resorting to this method of breeding when conditions become harsh. It's thought that species which lose this ability usually get wiped out by infectious diseases that can easily spread among genetically-identical hosts, or by changes in their environment they'd otherwise lack the diversity to cope with: thus, while individual clones may thrive, all-clone species decline over time.
  • There are periodic science-community scares that the human Y chromosome - already a tiny, shriveled thing relative to the mighty female X - decays slightly with each generation, and will eventually disappear entirely, wiping out males and the human race along with them. At the moment, this is believed to be false, but we've only known about DNA for a few generations.
    • Some scientists speculate that this will take so long that by the time it happens, we won't need men and women for reproduction. Or maybe we'll be able to change gender at will, like in Jurassic Park.


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alternative title(s): Clone Degradation
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