The Science, Ethics, and Benefits of Human Cloning

Cloning is a process used to obtain an identical organism asexually.  The clone it produces does not only look and think like its donor, its DNA is identical.  DNA stands for deoxyribonucleic acid.  It is the substance which contains the genetic information for most organisms.  In other words, it contains the information that tells the body how to work and develop.  For example, if you have blue eyes, it is a result of your DNA.

The technique that makes cloning possible is nuclear transfer.  It was first explored in the 1920s by Hans Spemann for the purpose of conducting genetics research, the study of heredity and genes in living organisms.  It is still used in every true cloning laboratory around the world, and every cloning experiment involving adult mammals has employed it.  Another similar technique, dubbed “twinning”, is used as well, but it should not be confused with cloning and nuclear transfer, because it is simply the act of splitting the cells of a young embryo.  It is basically the same idea as having twins.

Nuclear transfer requires two cells, a donor cell and an oocyte, or egg cell.  Contrary to previous belief, research has proven that the egg cell works optimally if it is unfertilized.  First, the egg cell must be enucleated.  This means that the nucleus is removed from the cell.  Since the majority of its genetic information is stored in the nucleus, this eliminates the cell’s heritage.  The donor cell is then forced into a stage called the Gap Zero (sometimes referred to as G0 stage; another stage of cell dormancy is Gap One,  or G1, etc.), a dormant phase.  This is done in different ways, depending on the technique.  This Gap Zero stage causes the cell to shut down, but it does not die.

Now, the nucleus of the donor cell is ready to be accepted by the egg cell, which at this point does not have one.  The donor cell’s nucleus is then removed from the donor cell and placed inside the egg cell.  This feat is accomplished either through cell fusion or transplantation.  The egg cell is then prompted to begin forming an embryo, either by an electric pulse or by the effects of a chemical culture.  Once this happens, the embryo can be transplanted into a surrogate mother, an animal used to carry and give birth to embryos which are not its own.  If all goes well and with a little luck, the surrogate mother will give birth to a perfect replica of the donor animal.

Scientists have studied and experimented with cloning.  The first to do so was an Austrian monk named Gregor Johann Mendel.  He studied the pea plants in his garden at the monastery over a century and a half ago.  He began experimentation in 1856, and eight years later, he established the basic laws of heredity.  He observed that specific characteristics of the plants [such as height and color] were passed from parent plants to new plants.  Mendel assumed the appearance of a characteristic was controlled by a pair of factors, one factor from each parent. (Hyde, 26)  Now these factors are called genes.  Mendel was important to the world of genetics because before his discovery, ideas about heredity were based on speculation and superstition.

Dr. Steen Willadsen, a cloning expert and pioneer, developed the modern fundamental methods for the cloning of animals.  He says, “From my perspective, it’s just a matter of time [before the first human is cloned],”  Willadsen said he had no moral issues with cloning.  “It is not for me, as a person who invents techniques, to say how we should use them,” he also said.  (Kolata.)

Lori Andrews, a professor at the Chicago-Kent College of Law and an expert on legal issues of reproduction, said that she recently received a call from a British scientist who agreed with Willadsen’s point of view.  She also stated that another doctor told her that, “If any of my relatives got cancer, I would clone them,” and then use the clone as a bone marrow donor to save the cancer victim’s life.  “I absolutely think the tenor has changed,” said Ms. Andrews.  “People who said that human cloning would never be done are now saying, ‘Well, the risks aren’t all that great’.”  She also said that, “Unless I see a total shift in the burden of proof saying that unless you can prove there is actually going to be harm, then we should allow human cloning.”  (Kolata.)

Three decades ago, two fertility experts, Dr. Sophia Kleegman and Dr. Sherwin Kaufman, wrote that new productive arrangements pass through several predictable stages.  These begin with “horrified negation” to “slow and gradual curiosity, study and evaluation”, and finally, end with a “very slow but steady acceptance”. (Kolata.)

Scientists say an extremely beneficial side effect of cloning is to make it possible for the first time to seriously consider genetically enhancing human beings (To give a human special characteristics or traits that would not otherwise be found in that human being.) .  Dr. Lee Silver, who is a molecular biologist at Princeton University, has thoroughly predicted these benefits.  He says, “In a sense it would be no differently morally from vaccinating a child for a disease.”  (Kolata.)

Dr. James Grifo, the director of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology at New York University Medical Center, is working on nuclear transfer in humans.  His goal is to use cloning to help older women have children; this makes it apparent that he is in support of human cloning.

Dr. Donald Wolf, a senior scientist at the University of Oregon, and his team have two federal grants to study cloning in monkeys.  One involves cloning from a human adult.  This makes it obvious where the government wishes to be heading with human cloning.  “We’re pretty optimistic,” Wolf says, “We have every reason to believe it will work.”

The first clone was generated in 1958 by F. C Steward, who was a that time the director of the Laboratory for Cell Physiology, Growth, and Development at Cornell University.  He was able to clone carrots from cells in the roots.  He put the cells in a nutrient solution, and they began to grow into new roots.  Today, his methods seem primitive, but they were effective enough to make him famous in the world of engineered reproduction.  Since the 1950s, his techniques have expanded, and now just about every plant can be cloned with relative ease.

There are two main techniques for the cloning of animals: the Roslin technique and the Honolulu technique.  The Roslin technique was developed by Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Scotland.  Wilmut can be considered a cloning pioneer in a sense because he created the cloned sheep Dolly and the transgenic clone Polly.

Dolly hit the headlines enormously.  She caused a huge uproar among the public as well as the scientific community.   To the public, she was a surprise because no one had really heard any big news about the genetical engineering field in some time, and no one had prepared them for a cloned animal that everyone could relate to.  In the scientific community, the stir was, on the other hand, about the fact that Dolly had been created from the cells of a six-year old ewe.  According to conventional wisdom, adult cells cannot give rise to new, mature organisms. (http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/278/5346/2038.)  Dolly broke the rules, so after her debut, scientists and researchers scrambled to understand how she was created.  They found out that Dolly was a real clone, and truly had been cloned from mature cells.  This new development has brought about a significant change in the genetics field, because now clones can come from any organism, endlessly widening the usage field of cloning.

After Dolly, Wilmut and his team forged on after the creation of the first sheep cloned from adult cells, and have recently created a genetically engineered sheep named Polly.  Polly is a sheep “born” by the same procedure as Dolly, but prior to fusion with the egg, the DNA was altered in a way that the sheep now produces a protein (factor IX, which is involved in blood clotting: it is deficient in patients with hemophilia B) in its milk. (http://genetics.miningco.com/library/weekly/aa012098.htm.)  This makes her not only a clone like Dolly, but also a transgenic animal, meaning that she expresses a gene that does not belong to its own genome, the set of all genes in an organism.  This is not a new feat, but the Roslin Institute should be credited extra for this because of the efficiency of the process.  Previously, the rate of success was extremely low, but Wilmut has shown a rate of three out of six sheep containing and reproducing the desired gene product.  Hopefully, these successes will produce factor IX in quantities that will allow for easy purification, low cost, and high quality.

The Honolulu technique was introduced to the world in July of 1998 by a team of scientists at the University of Hawaii.  They recently announced that through the use of this technique, they have produced three generations of genetically identical cloned mice.

The technique has been accredited to Teruhiko Wakayama and Ryuzo Yanagimachi at the University.  In compliance with the results of the Roslin Institute, they were able to make clones of adult mice.  Wakayama claims, “I can do, in one day, maybe 200 embryo transfers.”  (Check. 54.)In a perfect world, that would mean 200 clones, but as all of the problems and difficulties are not yet ironed out, the percentage rate is a scant 2 to 3 percent.  That bests Ian Wilmut and his team, but it is not quite good enough to make their technique “efficient”.  Nonetheless, it has produced a slew of  potential applications.  One biotechnology venture-capital firm, ProBio America, already has plans to license out cloning technology.  A possible outcome of this is a faster way to engineer transgenic animals like Polly.

In May 1994, the FDA approved Calgene’s Flavr Savr tomato.  Calgene’s tomato marks a major turning point for the industry, because its FDA approval speeds up and allows the introduction of future genetically engineered foods.  This product is marketed in stores nationwide, and is the result of $95 million worth of research and development.  Calgene’s genetic technicians have managed to isolate a gene that codes for a particular enzyme involved in the ripening process and reversed it.  This allows the tomato five extra days to ripen on the vine and still maintain its firmness during shipping.  The extended shelf life that this facilitates allows for production in faraway places such as Central America, where products can be produced less expensively.

Last year, ABS Global, Inc. (ABS), a world leading provider of bovine reproductive services and technologies, introduced a healthy, then 6-month old bull calf named “Gene” produced from its proprietary cloning technology. (http://www.Infigen.com/0807news.htm.)  ABS also announced the formation of Infigen Inc., its purpose being to commercialize applications of cloning technologies in the cattle breeding, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and xenotransplantation (the act of transplanting organs from one species to another) fields.  Infigen’s scientific breakthrough furthers the prospect for commercializing cattle-cloning technologies.  Their new genetic technology provides an unlimited source of genetic material to produce large numbers of cloned cattle, cost-effectively.  Marc Van’t Noordende, chief executive officer of ABS, said, “Cloning and the related technologies of Infigen offer tremendous promise for enhancing the quality, consistency, and nutritional value of dairy and beef products, and have promising applications for the transgenic production of pharmaceutical, nutraceutical, and xenotransplantation products.” (http://www.Infigen.com/0807/news.htm.) 
 

The potential benefits of cloning ought to outweigh any negativity heard about cloning.  In the future, cloning may cure diseases, disorders, injuries, and defects.

Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States and several other industrialized countries.  That fact considered, it is ironic that the government would consider banning cloning when it could be used to reverse heart attacks.  Scientists believe that they may be able to treat heart attack victims by cloning their healthy heart cells and injecting them into the areas of the heart that have been damaged. (http://www.humancloning.org/benefits.htm.)

There has been a recent breakthrough with embryonic stem cells.  They can now be grown to produce organs or tissues to mend or replace damaged ones.  For example, this technique could be used to make brain cells for the brain damaged, skin for burn victims, and spinal cord cells for quadriplegics and paraplegics.  This could also be of aid to the science of xenotransplantation, because naturally, the human immune system promptly rejects any foreign organ.  With nuclear transplant, however, scientists could modify an animal’s cells to grow a xenotransplant donor animal whose organs won’t set off the human immune system

Cloning can be a cure for infertility: an infertile couple can more easily have children.  Down’s Syndrome can also be avoided by cloning.  Tay Sachs disease, a gender linked genetic disorder, could be prevented by ensuring the gender of a baby before it is even born.  For liver and kidney failure, we may be able to clone livers for liver transplants and kidneys for kidney transplants.  Leukemia, which has consumed a rather uncomfortable number of children and adults, would be cured through cloning by cloning bone marrow.  This is widely expected to be one of the first benefits to come from cloning and genetic technology.  For cystic fibrosis, we may be able to produce effective genetic therapy against it.

Cancer is without a doubt one of the most well known and feared diseases on earth.  Through cloning, we may be able to cure this threat to mankind.  Not tomorrow, but as cloning technology progresses, we may learn how to switch cells on and off, thus curing cancer. (http://www.humancloning.org/benefits.htm.)

Spinal cord injury, one of the most dangerous injuries possible next to death itself, can be fixed through cloning, as we may learn to grow nerves or the entire spinal cord back again when it is injured.  Paralysis victims may be able to get out of their wheel chairs and walk again.

There is also serious potential in cloning to produce herds of top class livestock, which ABS Global Inc. is currently working on, or the breeding of champion race horses without the gene impurification yielded by traditional reproduction, where only half of the desired genes are obtained in the final organism.  Cloning would provide reproduction of the entire genome of an elite species, providing animals that only produce the best. (http://library.advanced.org/24355/data/light/implicationsnav.html.)  These perfect animals could also reproduce, so that the process of cloning need not be performed every time another animal is desired.  This would save money as well.  Sheep, goats, pigs, et cetera can be cloned in the same manner, overcoming the normally expected restrictions.

Also, mammalian cloning research would allow genetic manipulation to provide animals that are disease-resistant and possess many other desirable traits.  Clones of these transgenic animals would provide herds of superior livestock.

As is obvious cloning should not be banned.  Instead it should be practiced and encouraged by the government as well as the public.  Under controlled circumstances, it would doubtlessly be beneficial to modern society, and the key to a better future for all.

Many scientists agree with this point of view, including Dr. Willadsen, Dr. Silver, Dr. Wolf, Dr. Grifo, and Professor Andrews.  They have conducted studies and experiments, and are more capable of making an informed decision about cloning to benefit mankind than politicians.  They believe, with stable grounding, that the fears of the public about cloning being abused is simply a fallacy.  Proper regulation would of course be required to keep the genetic revolution under control, and would be sufficiently supplied.

There have already been many convincing examples of cloning demonstrated to the public.  They show that cloning is extremely unlikely to be a threat to the human race.  Instead, they have forged the way for more extensive, potentially helpful applications of cloning technology.

The projected benefits of cloning are so great that they cannot possibly ignored, especially if this simple neglect is seizing the lives of potentially savable victims.  The biggest killers could in time be prevented with the use of cloning and genetical engineering.

It may be worth pondering why these techniques are not in use saving lives already.  It is the fear, ignorance, and perhaps selfishness of the public.  Hopefully, these conceptions will change in the near future, so that the world may sooner enjoy the benefits attainable through cloning.

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