A universally acknowledged truth about cloning is that it is constantly surrounded by the idiosyncrasies of the controversies. The success rates are smaller; the risks for cloned mammals are always higher; and the ethical concern remains at large. Then, there are few extraordinary humans whose superhuman feats gave cloning a new light altogether.
It was July 1996, when Ian Wilmut a British scientist and his team were successful in cloning the sheep ‘Dolly’ after 270 trials. Since then, several claims have been made by several individuals regarding the attempt of cloning. Today, the debate regarding the research on human cloning should be allowed or not still remains futile.
Let’s Understand Cloning! What is Cloning and what is the history of Cloning?
Cloning can be simply defined as the different processes used to make genetically identical copies of a biological entity. The copied material is called as a clone. Till date, myriads of biological materials have been cloned including genes, cells, tissues and even organisms as a whole such as sheep, mule or dog among others.
For biologists, the term cloning may have different meanings. It may be the cloning of genes, cells or even organisms. When it comes to the organism, natural cloning can be seen in the case of identical twins as they are genetically identical to each other.
The History of Cloning
It was the year 1901, transfer of salamander embryonic cell’s nucleus to an enucleated cell was successful. Enucleated cells are the cells from which nuclear body containing DNA of the cell is removed by a process called enucleation. Apart from several breakthroughs of cloning in the upcoming decades, it was J. Watson who disclosed the potential and perils of cloning in 1971.
Then in 1996, the first cloned animal called Dolly (sheep) was produced using mature cells. As previously, several other animals were already cloned but they were produced from embryonic cells, not mature cells.
In November 1998, Advanced Cell Technology created first ever hybrid human by using somatic cell nucleus transfer (SCNT). For this, a nucleus was taken from a man’s leg cell and was introduced into a cow’s egg whose nucleus was removed. Scientists cultured and developed the cell into an embryo and after the 12 days, the embryo was destroyed.
The new millennium has just started, and scientists were already successful in cloning 8 species of mammals. In forthcoming years, a series of scientific achievements in the field of cloning was observed. First cloned mule was produced in 2003 by Americans than in 2005 first cloned dog was produced in Seoul National University, South Korea.
Later, in 2008, mature human embryos were created by using SCNT technique. Each embryo was created by inserting a nucleus (of human’s skin cell) into a human egg from which the nucleus was removed. The embryos were developed till the blastocyst stage and were then destroyed due to ethical concerns.
Various countries and human rights group have started showing concerns after several advancements and successful researches on human cloning. Several international bodies have passed different laws regarding the requirements, resources, consequences and legality of the experimentation on humans.
Different types of Cloning
Gene cloning, Reproductive cloning and Therapeutic cloning are the three different types of cloning. Gene cloning means the copying of genes or DNA segment and is completely different from the other two types. It is widely practiced throughout the world for various purposes. It requires cloning of the DNA segment which can be performed in laboratories.
Reproductive cloning produces whole organisms while therapeutic cloning produces embryonic stem cells for researches on regenerative medicines or replacing injured tissues. Both of these techniques are very similar but are done with different goals.
The concept of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) and Dolly the Sheep
Somatic cell nuclear transfer technique involves the removal or neutralization of genetic material from the female egg. Then the cell nucleus (containing genetic information) of somatic cells (i.e. body cells like skin cells, or cells from leg/ear or other parts) are taken from an individual who needs to be cloned and transferred into the emptied female egg. After this, the “fertilized” egg is stimulated by giving a shock to initiate embryonic development.
Now the egg is viable and capable of producing an organism with all the essential genetic information of one parent. From here, it depends upon the type of cloning i.e. therapeutic cloning or reproductive cloning. If the purpose is of reproductive cloning then the egg is implanted in host mother for further development. Whereas, in the case of therapeutic cloning, stem cells are obtained by destructing the cloned embryo.
Dolly the Sheep became famous for reproductive cloning by the use of SCNT. In 1996, mature cells from the mammary gland of a mature sheep were used to produce Dolly. She became the first ever cloned animal produced from mature cells or differentiated cells instead of the embryonic cells. The cloning of Dolly by SCNT gave birth to one of the hottest debate till date i.e. should humans be cloned or not?
Human cloning may refer to “reproductive cloning” where the aim is to produce a new adult individual from the donor eggs or it can refer to “therapeutic cloning” for treating different health conditions. Occasionally, the use of human cloning to produce the whole adult is suggested by various experts. These suggestions focused to improve the genetic race of mankind. It can be done by cloning the greats of different fields including sports, music, arts, science and so on.
In contrast to this, some experts believe that it is unrealistic at least at the current state of knowledge. According to these experts, such proposals are misleading as we might obtain the likes of Stalin, Einstein, Shakespeare or others but we won’t be able to reproduce the exact environment or the culture from their past. It is not necessary that the new cloned Stalin will again be a great leader or Shakespeare will be a great writer as he was. With the gap of several decades, we might clone these great individuals but for sure we wouldn’t be able to clone their achievements.
Now the big question, can humans be cloned into whole new organisms?
Well, theoretically humans can be cloned but due to several risks, ethical concerns and other factors; humans are not yet cloned into a whole organism. However, even if humans were cloned, chances of health issues, organ failures and early death rates will be very high.
Ian Wilmut who succeeded with Dolly noted that the death of the fetus was seen in many of the cases. In various cases, pregnancies were ended in spontaneous abortion. It can have devastating effects in the case of humans.
Till dates, several animals which were produced by cloning has suffered from a multitude of health problems including obesity, distorted limbs, organ failure and others. Even if the success rate of cloning is improved or the health mishaps will be corrected in near future, human reproductive cloning would still face several objections. It will be mostly due to ethical concerns as well as opposition from different religious groups.
What about Therapeutic Cloning?
It is also called embryonic cloning whose aim is to produce human embryos for different purposes. Here producing cloned humans are not the objective but the culturing of cells is important. These can be used for researches, treating medical conditions and damaged tissue. The embryos are very important, as cells from these can be extracted after 4 days of cell division and can be used to produce any type of human cells. Though it is beneficial in several ways, the process of cell extraction affects the embryo and due to this, it creates a lot of ethical concerns.
Advantages of Therapeutic Cloning
The embryonic cells or stem cells can be used for treating injured nerve cells, as there are tons of patients who are paralyzed and are confined to wheelchairs. Currently, it can be used for treating sickle cell anemia. These cells have promising applications in growing organs for transplantation as they overcome two major hurdles. First, there is reduced or no risk of immune rejection and the other is the availability of organs from suitable donors.
Bioethical Issues in Human Cloning
Bioethics is the new field of science whose main focus is to review and analyze the challenges caused due to any innovation or technologies in bioscience and biomedicine. It also looks for the do’s and don’ts of science. In the case of cloning, there are several bioethical issues including religious and secular points.
When it’s about reproductive cloning, the major concerns are that cloning is not yet developed which can confirm the safety of the clones and can also be abused. Another important point is that it may result in reproducing humans with extended capabilities and again due to this fact it can be abused causing harms to cloned individuals. It may be used to clone humans during the war; for tough working situations or political gain; for producing children of desired qualities; or to replace the dead relatives. Here, cloning will become the means to fulfill human demands by reproducing humans.
For therapeutic cloning, despite several ethical concerns, it is authorized mainly because it is used for the welfare, treatment and the betterment of human race. Till date, millions of patients across the globe have been benefitted from these researches but at the same time, these researches are destructing the developing embryo. These embryos serve the initial point of life for all human beings and it is not ethical to cut the string of life for medical researches. Various experts believed that other alternatives can be used with the same benefits to avoid ethical issues.
One of the equally important factors is the principle of consent. It is one of the biggest issues of cloning as it is not possible to take the consent of cloned individuals. Obviously, the clone does not exist at the time of cloning and he/she cannot say anything regarding this. Apart from this, the consent of the egg donor, the pregnant mother and the somatic cell donor is as important as the consent of the cloned individual. It can even be harassed and abused.
As they say that everything has its two sides, the same is with the cloning. It has both the positive and negative aspects along with its own advantages and disadvantages. At one end it may be beneficial in recreating the extinct species of animals but at the same time, it increases the risks of health issues and early deaths in the same animal. It might save the newborns from hereditary disease but in the long-term, the cloned living organism may encounter genetic problems. It may be used for an organ transplant or treating different health issues but it can also result in premature aging.
Human cloning might play an essential role in maintaining populations in case of disasters like war or earthquake or even to maintain the sex ratio but it might lead to the creation of monsters with extraordinary capabilities and strength. Apart from these, it can also damage our belief, morals and integrity as a human. At the end, whatever the advantages of cloning are, it will always challenge the concept of divine nature, its rules and above all the beauty of imperfection.
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