Cloning: Still an Ethical Issue Despite its Benefits
Mon, November 29, 2021

Cloning: Still an Ethical Issue Despite its Benefits

One type of cloning, molecular cloning, focuses on making identical copies of DNA molecules in chromosomes. / Photo by: zhudifeng via 123rf

 

It has been more than 20 years since Dolly the Sheep died but she remains as one of the most popular animals that ever existed. Why? It’s because she was the very first mammal ever cloned from another individual’s body cells—in her case, an adult sheep. English embryologist Ian Wilmut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, were behind Dolly’s “creation.” The project was an extension of their interest in the application of transgenic technology to farm animals. 

Dolly was born on July 5, 1996. By the autumn of 2001 she was walking stiffly. X-rays showed that she had arthritis, which fueled suspicions that cloned animals were destined to age prematurely. She was treated with inflammatory medicines that addressed her condition. However, in 2003 it was confirmed that Dolly had tumors growing in her chest, which eventually led to her death. The sheep’s death was controversial because normally, her kind lived for around 10 years. Dolly had only managed to live within six years.

The story of Dolly continues to capture the public imagination. People are fascinated with the idea that there might be an exact copy of oneself somewhere in the world. This is why a lot of cloning experiments have been conducted throughout the years to try and improve the method and the finished product. According to The Independent, a British online newspaper, the inefficiencies of the cloning process has made it difficult for many to accept it. Several serious ethical issues have emerged due to this procedure. 

“Just like nuclear power and artificial intelligence, cloning technology is also a double-edged sword,” Dr. Qiang Sun, one of the scientists responsible for cloning monkeys, said. 

Facts About Cloning

The long history of cloning goes back to 1885, when Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch, a German scientist, started researching about reproduction. Live Science, a science news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, our culture, and history, reported that Driesch was able to create a set of twin salamanders by 1902. Since then, there have been a lot of breakthroughs in cloning.

Cloning, the process of creating genetically identical copies of biological matter, has three different types: molecular cloning, organism cloning, and therapeutic cloning. Molecular cloning, also known as gene cloning, focuses on making identical copies of DNA molecules in chromosomes. Organism cloning, also called reproductive cloning, involves making an identical copy of an entire organism. And lastly, therapeutic cloning involves the cloning of human embryos for the production of stem cells. 

The microorganism Escherichia coli (E. coli) has been the number one choice for most gene cloning experiments. According to The Balance, an online site that makes personal finance easy to understand, this microorganism is versatile and widely used as a common host for recombinant DNA. It has the potential to build working computers within living cells that could be programmed to control gene expression in an organism.

Over the past five decades, scientists and researchers have conducted several cloning experiments. They have used a wide range of animals using a variety of techniques. The first genetically identical mice were produced in 1979. This was done by splitting mouse embryos in the test tube and implanting the resulting embryos into the wombs of adult female mice. Eventually, the first genetically identical sheep, cows, and chickens were also produced. 

 

The microorganism Escherichia coli (E. coli) has been the number one choice for most gene cloning experiments. / Photo by: Jarun Ontakrai via 123rf

 

Animal Cloning

One of the major reasons why animal cloning is popular is because it has become a reliable way of reproducing superior livestock genetics. At the same time, the process can ensure animals are maintained at the highest quality possible. Cloning animals allow farmers to elevate the reproduction of their most productive livestock to better produce safe and healthy food. Fortunately, this has always been legal and safe in the US. 

Many countries are showing interest in cloning. As of now, cloning research is active in the UK, Turkey, New Zealand, Japan, Iran, Germany, France, China, Brazil, Australia, and Argentina. Also, the governments of New Zealand and France and the European Food Safety Authority have determined foods from cloned animals and their offspring are safe for human consumption.

One of the benefits of animal cloning, specifically livestock, is that it reproduces the healthiest animals. Thus, farmers and ranchers don’t need to supply them with antibiotics, growth hormones, and other chemicals. Their milk and meat are discovered healthier, more consistent, and safer. 

Ultimately, animal cloning can be used to protect endangered species. For instance, panda cells in China are being kept on reserve should this species' numbers be threatened with extinction. A 2013 survey conducted by Pew Research poll, a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping America and the world, 50 percent of Americans believed that researchers will be able to use cloning to bring back extinct species by 2050. 

Human Cloning

Despite various research and experiments conducted about cloning, human cloning still appears to be in the realm of fiction. There has been no concrete scientific evidence that anyone has cloned human embryos partly because the procedure has ethical and scientific problems. Ethically, some believe that cloning is like interfering with genetics. On the scientific front, the principal objection involves the enormous inefficiency of the process. 

The public also remains skeptical about cloning. The Pew Research Center report showed that 81 percent of American adults stated that cloning a human being is not morally acceptable. There has also been overwhelming opposition to human cloning since 2001. About 48 percent believed that human cloning would be possible by 2050, while 49 percent said such an event would not happen.

However, human cloning is a very promising field of research, particularly cloning stem cells from humans. According to experts, stem research has the potential to help people who have spinal injuries and other conditions. It can also help burn victims heal faster and experience less scarring.

Cloning is still a subject of experiments by scientists up to now. There’s so much room for more discoveries that can either bring benefits or harm.