In Japan, a culture where cremation is mandatory, a funeral company is about to offer much more than the customary charred bones: it is also offering grieving relatives a way of storing the deceased's DNA in their memorial tablet.
"With the spread of genetic record cards for medical treatments, our samples will help people complete their family's DNA history," says Hideo Wakayama, a spokesman for funeral firm Sekise of Nagoya. The DNA could also be useful in disputes over parentage and claims to blood ties with the deceased, he adds. But one day the sample could, in theory at least, be used to clone the dead--although Japan is in the process of outlawing the cloning of people.
From July, for a charge of £120, Sekise will add a sealed capsule containing a DNA sample to the ihai--the lacquered wood Buddhist memorial tablet. "The ihai is a sacred object," explained Wakayama. "So it is very suitable for keeping DNA samples over the generations." Sekise's DNA preservation technology comes from Texas-based Identigene, which has developed technology for making low-cost permanent DNA samples.