Cloning or copying another organism’s genetics isn’t just something you would see in a science fiction movie. Most people believe cloning is wrong because it takes away a person’s individuality. Compared to regular reproduction where a person shares your genes, cloning is an exact genetic copy of a person or animal. Some say the idea of playing god and disrupting nature by making copies of living beings is not a good idea, but others say the research could help a lot of people.
Twenty-one years ago, scientists decided to experiment with cloning animals to better understand genes. They wound up with the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep. In order to make Dolly, Sir Ian Wilmut and his team of scientists at the Roslin Institute in Scotland, used a method known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). Scientists used the DNA of a cell’s nucleus (this cell can be taken from anywhere in the body), and moved it to an egg cell. Dolly’s DNA came from one sheep that was placed into an egg from a different sheep. The life form was then implanted into a separate sheep’s uterus until it gave birth to Dolly on February 1997. The scientific discovery was met with mixed reactions. People understood that by using SCNT, anyone could clone animals as well as humans.
Why Cloning Is Helpful
Cloning is used in stem cell research (research gathered from experimenting on human embryos or eggs). Embryos are used to create stem cells, which can make new heart muscles, bones, brain tissue, or any other type of cell in the body, and can treat many human diseases. These embryos will never be allowed to develop beyond a clump of cells. Cloning could be used as a way to discover various treatments that currently have no cure.
Another use for cloning is to “bring back” a dead pet. The Sooam Biotech Research Foundation in South Korea is the biggest laboratory in the world for dog cloning. Sooam offers anyone the chance to clone their dog for $100,000. British couple Laura Jacques and Richard Remde had a boxer, Dylan, who died in 2015. “I had Dylan since he was a puppy,” she said. “I mothered him so much, he was my baby, my child, my entire world.” Their new dog will have the same DNA as Dylan, look like him, and even have parts of his personality.
Dolly’s birth also proved that there are still many holes in terms of DNA and the benefits of cloning. For some couples, cloning could be their only hope in having a child (aside from adoption). Many cloning supporters even claim that in a few years, cloning will be as accepted in society as in vitro fertilization (IVF)–the method where a man’s sperm and a woman’s egg is combined in a laboratory dish and then transferred to a woman’s uterus.
Criticisms of Cloning
As of now, cloning is illegal in most countries, an exception being the U.S. There are two main types of cloning: Therapeutic cloning (to make stem cells) and Reproductive (which can make actual people), and both are legal in the U.S. In Israel, the practice is mostly illegal unless the Ministry of Health gives special permission.
Aside from physical concerns, cloning frightens many people for other reasons. It could impact family relationships. If a couple who can’t have a baby clones the wife, the daughter could grow up and look exactly like the wife. Cloned children or other family members could feel badly about the fact that they’re not original, but a copy of someone else.
There are also questions about whether cloning is safe and ethical for humans and animals. Cloning could create mutations* inside the cells and increase the risks of diseases for humans and animals. Dolly, for instance, died on February 14, 2003 at the age of six from a lung infection. Scientists hypothesize that she suffered long-term complications because she was a clone.
The Future of Cloning
Lawrence Brody from the National Human Genome Research Institute believes that cloning will likely continue with animals. In the future, it could be used to implant new genes in animals to prevent diseases and be used to save endangered species. Cloning has raised many important questions to consider in the future. “It brought up large societal discussions, and having these discussions before you do something is a very good way to move forward,” Brody said. So far, the future points to more animal focused creations. Scientists have already cloned donkeys, horses, cattle, and more, but not humans. While cloning originally spawned many critics, society is now taking more of a middle ground, anxious to see if the practice can produce medical advancements.
* A gene mutation is a permanent change in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene. The change is perpetuated in subsequent divisions of the cell in which it occurs
Cloning in the News
The creation of two cloned monkeys in China brings the science of human reproductive cloning closer to reality. Since the cloning of Dolly the sheep by scientists in Scotland in 1996, several other mammals have been cloned, including dogs, cats and pigs. But the same methods didn’t work so well for primates – like monkeys, and us. That’s why this latest step is significant. It shows that, with a bit of modification, the technique used for Dolly can create cloned, apparently healthy baby monkeys. The pair made this way by scientists at the Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai have been named Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong.
Crucially, the cute duo were cloned from the genetic material in cells of a macaque foetus, not from an adult monkey. The important additional step in the process – not needed for Dolly and other animals– was to add some molecules to the egg before implantation that could activate genes involved in embryo development. Without that encouragement, these genes don’t seem to “awaken” in primates, and so the embryo can’t develop. But it seems that, in adult cells, those genes can’t so easily be revived, which is what still prevents the successful cloning of adult monkeys. In contrast, Dolly was cloned from cells of an adult sheep.
What do YOU think about cloning?
- Do you know how scientists clone animals? What is the process?
- Do you think scientists should be allowed to clone people?
- Would you want to have a clone of yourself?
- What problems could cloning people solve?
- Could cloning people lead to problems? What kinds of problems?
- If we could clone dinosaurs like Jurassic Park, would you want to?
- How about if we could clone ancient humans, like Neanderthals or the early homo sapiens? Would you want to clone ancient humans?
- What if science could clone famous people like Albert Einstein or Leonardo Da Vinci? Do you think they would be as successful if they were brought back as clones?
- How can cloning animals help science?
- What do you think cloning will be like in the future? Will cloning stop or expand?