Cloning Advancements And Achievements
Have you ever had a favorite dog – a pet you would keep for the rest of your life if you could? Well, now you can. Researchers in Seoul, South Korea are betting that consumers will pay big bucks to have their pet brought back to life, at least genetically speaking. RNL Bio announced in mid-February that they are offering commercial pet cloning services to the public. Offering cloned dogs at a price of $150,000, services are marketed to wealthy pet owners. The company’s first order is from an American woman requesting that her dead dog, a pit bull terrier, be cloned. RNL Bio will extract the DNA from ear tissue, which the pet owner preserved with a biotec company a year before the dog’s death. The odds of creating a successful clone are only 25%, but the lab insists it will not give up until her pit bull is recreated as a clone. The average pet owner will not be faced with whether to duplicate their beloved canine or even feline for that matter. The cost of the procedure coupled with the cost of “banking” the DNA sample, not including yearly maintenance on the storage of the sample, will allow only the most wealthy to participate. With all the obvious advances being made in animal cloning, can we expect human clones to be next? With these discoveries coming at such a fast pace, morality issues and ethical questions are continually fueled into the new debates about the future of cloning. The average consumer will not be faced with a personal decision on the morality of cloning but will have to look at it with an outsider’s viewpoint.
Aside from human cloning, no cloning project has brought on more debate than the marketing plan of Genetic Savings and Clone, the first U.S. firm to go commercial and offer pet cloning. They were responsible for the first cloned-to order pet sold in the U.S., a cat named Little Nicky. This carbon copy cat had a $50,000 price tag at the time of the cloning back in 2004. “It’s morally problematic and a little reprehensible.” said David Magnus, co-director of Center for Biomedical Ethics at Stanford University, “For $50,000, she could have provided homes for lots of strays.”(Elias) Animal welfare activists complain that cloning of felines is unnecessary and cruel because thousands of stray cats are euthanized for want of homes every year. These same activists are asking for laws prohibiting these companies from providing this service. Along with concerns over humane treatment and high failure rates, the question of whether the consumer understands the true nature of a clone has also been raised. One common misconception of cloning is that the clone will be identical to the DNA donor in every aspect. The animal may have exactly the same genetic make-up as the original but will be introduced to different living environments, stimuli and situations than the original, making it a unique and possibly a very different individual. (Pence) The Texas woman who owned Little Nicky said, “He is identical. His personality is the same.” (Elias) The process worked for her. The risk is that the animal owner who remembers a loving pit bull who saved her life may end up with a temperamental unfriendly pit bull that looks like her beloved pet, but is not. Ceo of Genetic Savings and Clone cautions, “…from the genetic perspective is that this (cloning) is resurrection. It is not in terms of a level of consciousness, but in terms of genetics you are getting the same animal back. Personality-wise there are differences.” (Shiels) Conventional wisdom holds true that half of who we are comes from genes and the other half from our environment. Buyer beware seems like a good motto to follow when considering a cloning purchase.
Opinions spread like wild fire upon the report of the first successful mammal clone “Dolly.” Everyone with a voice had something to say about the morality of clones: the scientific community, politicians and the general public. Dolly was cloned at Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1996. (Weiss) It took 276 attempts before Dolly was born. This high failure rate is due to egg and nucleus incompatibility, the egg not dividing or developing properly, the implantation of the embryo failing or even the pregnancy failing. Even though Dolly was successful, abnormalities in other clones occur and have not been completely solved. Even Dolly had abnormally short telomeres from birth, an as of yet unsolved anomaly in clones. When scientists look at the telomeres of cloned animals, differences can be found in their length. When cells divide, the chromosomes become shorter each time. The ends of the DNA sequences, the telomeres, become shorter naturally with age. Other cloned animals have been shown to have longer than normal telomeres. Scientists are not sure what causes these differences. Also, cloned animals are sited as often being much larger at birth than their predecessor referred to as “Large Offspring Syndrome” (LOS) by scientists. Clones with this condition have abnormally large organs, leading to breathing, blood flow and other health related problems. Even clones that do not have LOS have been reported to develop kidney problems; brain malfunctions and impaired immune systems later in life. Until many of these questions and problems have been resolved human cloning will remain a long way off.
With all of these problems, why should we continue trying to clone? Cloning for medical purposes is perhaps the most obvious and compelling reason. Cloning has the potential to benefit large numbers of people if used for medical research purposes. The cloning of animals could dramatically reduce the amount of time needed to make animal models that are genetically engineered to carry certain disease-causing genes. This could decrease the time needed to study and produce life saving drugs and medical procedures. Using genetically engineered clones as “pharm” animals to produce proteins and drugs is currently being explored also. The cloning of stem cells is being studied intensively as a means of repairing diseased or injured organs and tissues.
Cloning is also being explored in efforts of reviving endangered animals and perhaps someday it will lead to bringing back extinct animals. Researchers have already been able to successfully clone an African Guar, which is on the endangered list. A recently extinct goat species is also being looked at as a possible candidate for cloning. The key to reviving endangered or extinct species is having a well preserved DNA sample of the animal and having an available species that is similar to act as a surrogate mother.
Cloning is the process of making an exact genetic copy through nonsexual means. (Weiss) This means every single bit of DNA is the same. Since the birth of Dolly, many larger mammals have been successfully cloned. There are two ways of producing clones. First, Artificial Embryo Twinning mimics the natural process of producing identical twins in nature but by doing it in a Petri dish. Secondly, Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer produces clones by transplanting genetic information from a specialized cell into an unfertilized egg cell whose genetic information has been removed. There are four general stages to reproduction cloning; nuclear transfer, cell division, embryo transfer, and live birth. Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer is the way Dolly was cloned. A nucleus from a mammary gland cell of a Finn Dorsett sheep was transplanted into an enucleated egg of a Blackface ewe. Scientists stimulated the pair with electricity to fuse them and stimulate cell division. Modern science’s own version of Frankenstein complete with the electric shock. The new cell that divided was placed into the uterus of a Blackface ewe and months later Dolly was born. (Frendenrich)
Cloning may be news today but it is not a new discovery. Scientists have been cloning for over 100 years. Sea urchins were the first to be cloned in 1885. (Weiss) Then came salamanders, tadpoles and even rabbits and cows were cloned. But, until Dolly came along, it was not thought possible that cloning could be done with nuclei from differentiated adult somatic cells. This opened up the possibility of human cloning and sparked a new debate about the morality of cloning.
Then in 1993, a scientist quietly announced at a conference that he had cloned the first human embryo and was casually congratulated by his colleagues. (Lemonich) Weeks later when the press got wind of this momentous story, the headlines screamed and the debates escalated. There were visions of clones grown for parts and baby farms springing up overnight. Today, due in part to a better understanding of the complexities of the science of cloning and to the human cloning fraud that happened in 2004 in Japan, scientists and even the general public are more skeptical of claims being made and less likely to panic at each new scientific accomplishment. Even earlier in 2002, a private company, Clonaid, claimed to have cloned the first human baby and expected 20 more in 2003. Their claims were never substantiated. Clonaid was created in 1996 by the founder of the Raelian religious sect as a for profit research lab devoted to the study of cloning. The Raelian sect is a religious group supporting the cloning of humans, believing that humans are a clone of a scientifically advanced alien race. (Moorgate) Clonaid is still active in the race to have the first human clone.
Times Magazine in January of 2008, reported that human embryos capable of producing stem cells had been cloned. (Lemonich) This is a huge step forward – a huge deal. But, up to this point, scientific breakthroughs in this area have not applied in practice what was expected from principle. So, everyone will wait to see, again.
Politicians have made attempts to keep up with the science of cloning. In 2005, the United Nations adopted a U.S. backed resolution banning all forms of human cloning. (Washington Post A03) Many nations have adopted similar bans within their boundaries. Clonaid had hoped to locate their labs in the Bahamas and were forced elsewhere when a ban was adopted in that country. President Clinton assigned the Bioethics Advisory Commission to keep an eye on cloning issues as cloning came closed to becoming a possibility. Then in 1997, shortly after Dolly was born, he called for a moratorium on federal funding for human cloning research and asked for tighter controls. President Bush faced similar questions early in his presidency when he called for a ban on the use of embryos for stem cell research. (Gorman) Both were criticized for their conservative responses to what the scientific community considered a matter of simple science and the possibility of a better future for many people. There will always be debate on the morality of human cloning. Proponents say it could provide options for infertility. Others say it is an affront to humanity and opens up the doorway for the misuse of the science. It would seem that someday in the near future, politicians and all of humanity will have to deal with the first human clone. Who is to say where this science will lead us – to a greater good or down a slippery slope.
Moorgate, Roger. “First Human Clone.” The Reproductive Cloning Network. 2002. 20 Feb 2008
Frendenrich,PhD, Craig. “How Stuff works It’s Good to Know.” How Cloning Works. 19 Feb 2008
Pence, Gregory. “Top 10 Myths about Human Cloning.” The Reproductive Cloning Network . 15 Feb 2008
“The clone zone, what is cloning, why clone, what are the risks of cloning.” Learn.genetics. 2008. Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah. 18 Feb 2008
“Pet Clones Spur Call for Limits.” Washington Post 02/17/2005: A03.
Elmer-Dewitt, Phillip. “Cloning where do we draw the line.” Time Magazine 11/8/1993
Lemonick, Michael. “Scientists Clone Human Embryos.” Time Magazine 01/17/2008
Gorman, Christine. “To Ban or not to ban.” Time Magazine 06/16/1997
Park, Alice. “Dogged Pursuit.” Time Magazine 11/10/2005
Shiels, Maggie. “Carbon Kitty’s $50,000 Price Tag.” BBC News 04/27/2004
Elias, Paul. “California Company sells cloned cat, generating ethics debate.” Associated Press 12/23/2004