The Dangers of Cloning – a Popular Myth?

The world of biology was relatively quiet and untainted, whereas other natural sciences such as physics and chemistry had suffered from some bad reputations. Nuclear physics is now associated with the tragedies of Chernobyl and Fukushima and chemistry has been associated with pesticides, dangerous drugs and horrible toxins. But the view on biology changed in 1996 when Dolly the Sheep was born, the first official clone of a mammal.

Suddenly the press went haywire, drawing scenarios of the doom of humanity. The scientists from Scotland were suddenly accused that they had been interfering with the essentials of life and created a monster. Was this the beginning of Frankenstein come true? Certainly not. The streets are still safe and there is no army of human clones trying to invade us as so beautifully demonstrated in Star Wars. But what is the truth about the myth of cloning? How does it affect our everyday lives and what are the biologists cooking next in their laboratories?

Dolly is dead now. She died from lung cancer in 2003 after enjoying only half the life span of a normal sheep of that breed. Since Dolly, many mammals have been cloned, including bulls and horses and none of those has hit the news as vigorously – or maybe the name Bull 86 just did not quite cut it. Why do we clone animals?

First of all, it is important to understand what is cloning. Cloning is a natural phenomenon, just as is nuclear energy. Many organisms in nature reproduce asexually, for example bacteria, some plants and some insects. By definition, two clones are organisms with exactly the same genetic make-up. If a bacteria divides for example, two clones are formed. There are approximately 40 million bacteria in one gram of soil, often from the same clone, and thus two grams of soil has potentially got more clones than Britain has people.

Cloning is a technique used routinely in laboratories and has been since the dawn of molecular biology. It is a tool absolutely necessary to study the fundamentals of life and study mechanisms in cells that ultimately help us understand many diseases. So, cloning seems to be a good word. But why do we need to clone mammals or potentially even humans, which is still illegal.

Interestingly, Dolly was not even a real clone. There are two pools of DNA in a mammalian cells, one the nucleus which is passed on from the father and the mother, and one in the mitochondria, the “power plants” of a cell, which is only passed on from the mother. The mitochondria were not replaced and thus Dolly was strictly speaking not a clone – neither is any of the other mammals that have been cloned since.

Many plants that we cultivate and finally eat are clones. With the technology available we can also use cloning to genetically modify plants in order to increase crops, yield and even taste. Again there is the question as to whether this is necessary.

Despite heated debates and many laws about stem cells, genetically modified food and cloning, once Pandora’s box is open, it usually doesn’t get closed again. Cloning is good and has helped our understanding of the mechanisms of the cell and helped guide the development of many drugs which help millions of people. The question is not as to whether one should use cloning, but rather what is the scientist’s conscience using such techniques. We live in a society with strict moral codes laid upon us, some of them maybe debatable. As society evolves, the moral code also changes. To me, a scientist conducting experiments is responsible for his/her actions. Politics is responsible for laws that try to lead the conscience of people. It surely is our responsibility to understand the needs of society as a whole and help guide scientists to make good decisions and use the knowledge they generate wisely.

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Human Cloning

Human embryo cloning begins with a standard In vitro fertilization process (IVF). Sperm and an egg cell are mixed together on a glass dish. After conception, the zygote (fertilized egg) is permitted to advance into a blastula (a hollow mass of cells). The zygote divides first into two cells, then four, then eight- in that sequence. A chemical is added to the dish to take away the “zona pellucida” covering. This material delivers nutrients to the cells to support cell division. With the covering removed, the blastula is divided into separate cells which are placed on distinct dishes.


At that point they are layered with an artificial “zona pellucida” and allowed to divide as well as mature. The experiment by Sillman et al. demonstrated that the best outcomes could be acquired by interfering with the zygote at the two cell stage. Various pairs of zygotes were each able to develop to the 32 cell stage but delayed at that point. They could have had the potential to change further then even settle into a viable fetus, excluding the fact that the original ovum was flawed and would have died anyway. For principled reasons, the researchers had selected embryos which had no probability of ever maturing into fetuses and therefore becoming newborn babies.

A new stem cell discovery in 2013 has resuscitated controversy about human cloning. The parallels between the animal-cloning procedure and the new human one have triggered this concern. However, technical challenges denote that scientists are far-off from being able to produce human babies. The scientists in the study attempted to treat diseases of the cell’s powerhouse: the mitochondria and to refine the technique. This was the same one used in 1996 to create the cloned sheep Dolly. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) promptly delivered a statement condemning the investigation. This was indicated both by virtue of those embryos that were destroyed in the research development and over the distress that the full reproductive cloning of humans is likely. “They or others may be close to being able to develop cloned human embryos to the fetal stage and then beyond,” alleged Richard Doerflinger, the associate director of USCCB’s Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.

According to an ethical debate about human cloning, John Gearhart, the director of the Institute for Regenerative Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, stated “Nobody in their right mind would want to do that”. This meant the scientific creation of human children.

When I asked Paul Cooijmans his views on human cloning, he declared, “My opinion so far is that cloning, when technically possible, should be used to reproduce geniuses (their genetic material should be stored for that purpose now already). This would be good because cloning is the only way to retain a precise genetic configuration, and the genetic configuration of genius gets lost in normal sexual procreation (children of geniuses are mostly not geniuses).The idea is that genius rests on so-called “configural inheritance”, so on a precise synergistic configuration of genes; if only one thereof is missing, it does not work. This has to do with “epistasis” (a gene influencing the expression of another gene). Hans Eysenck for instance writes about that in his book “Genius”. For everyone else, cloning is not the way to go, and sexual procreation is better. An alternative for cloning would be to produce very many children, like a hundred or more, of a genius via gamete donation and sexual procreation, hoping there would be one new genius among them. I have no religious objections to cloning. I do think it would be bizarre to clone other than only exceptional people, for it would mean a genetic standstill. I am an atheist”.

Cloning of embryos has been utilized in rodent experiments since the late 1970’s, and in animal rearing since the late 1980’s. The practice tears a single fertilized ovum into two or more clones, each of which is then implanted into the womb of an interested female.

On the other hand, exploration into cloning of human embryos has been limited in the United States and in some other countries. Pro-life assemblies which are in conflict with free access to abortion have had considerable governmental influence. All human embryo research was forbidden by the Regan and Bush Presidencies throughout most of the 1980’s in addition to into the early 1990’s. During the first few days of President Clinton’s presidency, the prohibition on public funding of human embryo and fetal research was raised.

Evidently, it may not be known who is the global citizen or team that first performed cloning of human embryos. The techniques utilized have been implicit for many years as they duplicated embryos in livestock and sheep. It is possible that somebody had efficaciously used the scheme on a human embryo secretly. The first publicly broadcasted human cloning was completed by Robert J. Stillman and his squad at the George Washington Medical Center in Washington D.C. They picked up 17 genetically damaged human embryos which would have died within days even if they were treated. They were gathered from an ovum that had been fertilized by two sperm cells. As a consequence, an additional set of chromosomes doomed the ovum’s future. It was seen that not one could have advanced into a fetus. These ovum were successfully split in 1994-OCT, all generating one or more clones. The main intention of the experimentation appears to have activated public dispute on the ethics of human cloning.

Certain scientists trust that embryo cloning and associated research is moral. From their chosen viewpoint, this may ultimately bring about very positive results such as:-

i.         A better understanding of the reasons of miscarriages; this might introduce treatment to avoid unprompted abortions. Consequently, this would be of immense support for women who cannot bring a fetus to the span.

ii.         It might lead to the comprehension of the mechanisms by which a Morula (a mass of cells that has developed from a blastula) fastens itself. This has the capacity to generate new and actual contraceptives that reveal very few side effects.

iii.         The rapid progression of the human morula is comparable to the rate at which cancer cells propagate. Cancer researchers have confidence in the notion that if a system is found to end the division of a human ovum, then a technique for terminating the growth of a cancer might also be created.

Several individuals and groups have voiced trepidations about adverse effects of embryo cloning in humans and continue to question its morality. The following have been taken into consideration:-

  1. When the gene or genes that determine sexual orientation are located, cloning may perhaps similarly be approved to eliminate zygotes of a particular sexual orientation.
  2. A country might fund a program like in Nazi Germany where humans were bred to make the most of certain traits. As soon as the “perfect human” was technologically advanced, embryo cloning could be used to reproduce that creature and imaginably produce unlimited quantities of clones. The identical approach could be operated to generate a “genetic underclass” for exploitation: e.g. persons with sub-normal intelligence and above normal strength.
  3. There is constantly the likelihood of harming or killing embryos. Most pro-life supporters accept as true that an embryo is a human being. For the period of embryo cloning, they would be exposed to assault with the risk of being murdered. They also have deliberated that the embryos would be treated as a product to be exploited, not as a person.

Moreover, the fear exists that a scientist could possibly produce armies of warriors or even large quantities of manual workers.  A “black market” of fetuses could transpire from favored donors that would desire to be able to clone themselves. These various people include sportspersons, film stars, technologists and others. In conclusion, there are many questions that exist in today’s globe with regards to the cloning of humans. Some are,

  1. What are some of the social challenges a cloned child might face?
  2. Do the benefits of human cloning outweigh the costs of human dignity?
  3. Should cloning research be regulated? How, and by whom?