A Look into Cloning

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For this paper, I will be discussing the history, social aspects, science, logistics and future of cloning. This topic will range from the cloning of organs on other animals to the cloning of a full organism to the cloning of humans. Cloning has long since grabbed the eye of many scientists and the general public.

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The event that brought the reality of cloning to the public was the cloning of a sheep which was named Dolly. But the idea of cloning and the applications it held had been around long before Dolly. But to understand cloning a look into its history is needed. The idea of replicating an organism has been around since the early days of farming in human society. The first notion of cloning started when early people noticed how planting the seeds of the crops that held the highest yield produced more crops of similar yields to their predecessors. And while this is now known to be related to genetics and selective breeding back then the people thought they were recreating the crops that had come before. Another early form of cloning was when scientists first observed the birth of twins. And while they could not explain why twins looked early scientists were correct on twins essentially being copies of each other. Scientists in late 1800s noticed forms of asexual reproduction, eggs developing embryos and developing without fertilization.

And even though asexual reproduction does not lead to a genetically identical offspring it did lead to the early ideas of cloning and the possibility that it has. Other scientists looked at how asexual reproduction and parthenogenesis could give more information about the developmental stages of embryos and different questions like if animal cells contained the same information when they were adults as when they were embryos or if cells only contained the information of their specific function. A German scientist, Hans Spemann, designed a test to take a cell from a sixteen celled salamander cell and see if the cell would develop into a full embryo or if it would develop the full embryo. His conclusions of the experiment found that the cell would develop a full embryo rather than just one-sixteenth of an embryo. Later in 1962, a scientist by the name of John Gurdon took what Spemann did and took it steps further. Gurdon took the nucleus from the intestine of tadpoles and inserted it into the embryos of frogs that had their nucleus removed. He found that the cloned embryos ended up developing normally into tadpoles, and by doing so showed that cells retained the information to develop embryos even though they were differentiated to a large degree from embryonic cells. And that all was needed to revert the cells back to their embryonic stages was the correct environment and conditions. But Gurdon did not just prove that genetic material and coded information stays with the cells through the life of the organism, he helped open the door for many more breakthroughs in cloning. No paper on cloning would be complete without mentioning one of the biggest feats in cloning to have happened. I am of course referring to Dolly the sheep. Now it is known that Dolly wasn’t the first animal to be cloned, but what was so extraordinary about Dolly was that she was cloned from an adult cell rather than from an embryo that had been modified.

In the case of Dolly, the researchers wanted to use cells from the mammary gland on a sheep. Which is why they named the cloned sheep Dolly, as a reference to Dolly Parton. But first they had to stop the cells from dividing and so they starved the cells to make them almost dormant. From there the scientists used a similar method that Gurdon had used with the frogs and tadpoles, but with instead of inserting the nucleus of the cell into embryonic cells they used a donor egg and took the nucleus from it. From there they put the nucleus of donner cell from the sheep next to the egg and stimulated the egg with electric pulses as to get the egg to accept the foreign nucleus. They then stimulated cell division within the egg to get it to start developing an embryo which one week later was implanted into a surrogate. Later the surrogate sheep gave birth to the sheep we know as Dolly. But what made Dolly more interesting than other cloning projects at the time was the fact that Dolly brought cloning into the eyes of the public. To the public, Dolly was a phenomenon because the public understood the core principle of what Dolly was. She was a genetically identical clone of another sheep, and it made people question if cloning would end at sheep.

Dolly opened up the question of human cloning, which had been talked about in the past but wasn’t until Dolly that it truly seemed like a possibility to clone an adult human. But complications did occur with Dolly. Dolly died at a rather premature age due to arthritis and lung disease that many speculated to have been attributed to her being a clone of an older sheep. Dolly also was seen to have shorter telomeres at the ends of her chromosomes than a sheep her age would normally have, which again was speculated to be caused by her being a clone and that she was genetically older than her real age. However, through many tests and examinations, it was concluded that there were no signs that her accelerated aging was causing any symptoms. These side effects helped to spur the public into being even more wary of cloning, not just the ethical side but the logistical side as well. In terms of major breakthroughs and discoveries Dolly the sheep is one that almost everyone knows and is a milestone in the field of cloning. Dolly did open the doors for discussion on if human cloning would be possible, but more important questions were raised. These being if human cloning was an ethical thing to even do and if it is logistical in its practice.

Ethics have been something that has long since been a critical factor in scientific research and development. More often than not ethics limits what scientists are allowed to test and overall they impede progress in scientific fields. But that is not a bad thing. It is because of ethics that animal testing has been limited to certain species, and it has made researchers ask the question of if they should do something rather than if they can do something. In fact, this notion of capability vs reasonability has become so prominent in the scientific community that movies about science fiction have even taken it and incorporated it in Hollywood. The most well-recognized movie that did this is Jurassic Park when Jeff Goldblum’s character made the statement Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should (Jurassic Park). And while that quote comes from a movie it perfectly summarizes the core of ethics in scientific research. In the movie, the scientists created prehistoric creatures but never asked the question of ethics and the problems that could arise from their experiments. And similar points could be made to the real-life example of cloning with Dolly the sheep.

Many groups criticized the scientists who cloned a sheep saying that it was against God to create life and that because of their actions they have opened up the doors to a whole new world of possibilities and problems. One of the key concerns of groups was the inclination that this technology could be applied to the cloning of humans. And in regards to cloning humans, there are a plethora of ethical questions and concerns that are presented to the scientific community. One is about the unnatural aspect of it. If by cloning humans would that then end human evolution, because we would all just be clones of previous humans. This is a debate that is very similar to the debate of designer babies, and that if one can just create the exact child or clone that they want what is to stop them from cloning someone from the past. Or if species could be resurrected from extinction and if by doing so science would destroy the natural order. Another question would be if a person were to clone themselves what is to stop them from continuing to do so. There are many more questions posed about the ethics of it all, and in the years following Dolly the sheep, there were rules put in place that at first made it so that the US government would not financially support any research that had to do with the cloning of humans.

This was passed by Clinton and later was put in front of the National Bioethics Advisory Commision who deemed the cloning of a human in the same way that Dolly was cloned was unethical and immoral, but no legal rule was ever made that outlawed cloning of humans. As a result of this and because of the public’s concerns in cloning and its possible ethical issues the number of breakthroughs and new studies showed a significant decrease from previous years. But besides the ethical issues involved with cloning in humans, there were many logistical issues revolving around cloning as well. One issue was that human embryos and zygotes are a much harder resource to come by than those from animals. Because for any researchers to get their hands on such materials a person would have to willingly donate them to science. And if the experiment went wrong the donated materials would be lost and to some, that was a price that was too high to pay. But the price of losing such valuable materials was also one of monetary concern as well. Because depending on where the research was done scientists may not have been able to legally offer money to women who were willing to give up eggs for research. And so losing the materials to a failed experiment not only was a moral loss, but it was a decent financial loss as well because of how valuable the materials were. The development of cloning has somewhat slowed in breakthroughs since the time of Dolly, but they have not ceased. Many researchers are still looking at cloning and the ways that they can improve on it.

Much research has been done into stem cells and their possible benefits to the regeneration of body parts, as well as cloning of more animals. In regards to animal cloning, there was a question that was posed in the cloning community. That was if scientists would be able to revive lost species. And as of right now the answer is no. When the remains of a woolly mammoth were discovered frozen and preserved better than any other specimen before scientists tried to use the DNA to create an embryonic clone. This was done in hopes to then try and clone a living woolly mammoth, but sadly the DNA from the specimen was too damaged due to time to be able to produce an embryo. And while researchers have not given up hope on reviving extinct species other studies have been done to look at how cloning can be used in other areas. The studies that were done focus more on how cloning can further the understanding of genetics, and how it can be used to help cure illnesses in humans. But at this time there has been no evidence to support that a human embryo has been cloned. However, there have been claims that it has been done such as Hwang Woo Suk. He claimed that had cloned human embryos, but his claims were later found to be fraudulent.

He has altered his data and fabricated images, and while he was found to have created embryos and stem lines it was done with parthenogenesis. Later in 2013 scientists did manage to use cloned human embryos to make stem cells. But at this point in time, there is no evidence to show that a human was cloned in the same way that Dolly the sheep was. But that may not be the case forever. Science is continuously making leaps in progress in all fields, and cloning is no exception. While today it is not possible to clone a human fully that does not mean in 5 years the same can be said. It is not a matter of if full human cloning will become a reality. It is a matter of when. And while the ethical debate will rage on for many years on if human cloning is something that should even be explored the likelihood that one day it will happen despite the ethical inquiries is quite likely. But the future of cloning is not just limited to the cloning of humans. The future of cloning will likely bring about the survival of endangered species, and the possible de-extinction of previous species. The movie Jurassic Park may be science fiction today, but it is impossible to know if it is out of the realm of possibilities in the future.

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