Scotland’s Dolly the sheep
In 1997 Scotland stunned the world by producing their first cloned mammal, Dolly. Dolly was born from an ewe that was artificially inseminated, similar to fertility treatments given to women. The cells that were used were taken from a 6-year old ewe and then cultured in a lab using microscopic needles. Dolly brought on a storm of controversy with many unsure of what Scotland’s discovery could lead to. There are both good and bad to be observed here. While cloning for medical practice can lead to possible breakthroughs in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, others saw it as a means by which we can preserve endangered species. However, an issue was raised, one that is still debated today, what many considered the next step in cloning: human cloning. This has been an ethical debate since the birth of Dolly.
Despite Dolly’s successful birth, she only lived 6, dying due to various health issues they suspect was caused due to the cloning process. This wasn’t before she was able to give birth to 6 healthy lambs.
This process is far more complex. Molecular cloning refers to the cloning of multiple molecules, but human cloning is a whole other ball game. This idea has brought up a whole slew of controversy as the question raised is: Do these clones, as man-made beings, have the same rights and what about their souls? Can clones have souls? If you have watched the movies Never Let Me Go or Shutter Island, you will see that this discussion is not a new one. As it suggests, human cloning is essentially copying a human’s genome, implanting them once viable into a surrogate and then from there they develop until they are born.
This is a two-pronged argument, though, as there is therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. Therapeutic cloning refers to cloning organs for people who need donor organs, whereas reproductive cloning refers to the cloning of an actual human. The former is something that is currently still in the research process, while the latter is still under heavy debate.
This form of cloning as mentioned above is still being researched and as of July 2020 has yet to be put into practice anywhere in the world. This form of cloning is used solely for medicine and to assist with patients who require donor organs. There are two methods currently under investigation: somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) and pluripotent stem cell induction(iPSC).
In the SCNT process, the nucleus of a somatic cell is taken and transplanted into an enucleated egg cell (basically an empty egg cell). After it has undergone a scientific process making it viable for human surrogacy it is then either grown within a surrogate or artificially. This was the process used to clone Dolly. This technique has been refined and is now able to be used to replicate cells and re-establish pluripotency (growing numerous cells with the capability of creating a complete organism).
This process has been proved to be rather inefficient, since it is a rather long process. In the human donor, the stem cell was typically taken from the bone marrow, but nowadays any cell can be taken. DNA is then removed and put into a pluripotent stem cell, it is then programmed to become the required cell, from there you would be able to “print out” a cloned organ using a specialized 3D printer. With this process the stem cell is able to differentiate between 3 specific germ layers and take on the role of any cell in the body. These layers are the endoderm (the digestive system and the lungs), the mesoderm (muscle, bone, blood and the reproductive system) and the ectoderm (epidermal and nervous tissues). This process is very limited in humans and can have a very negative impact on the person implanted with the organ produced through this process. If a virus is reprogrammed and implanted, it can activate within the patient cancer-causing cells. However, scientists were able to remove the presence of these cells making them more viable for human implementation.
So What Happens Now?
Where do we go from here? We know that cloning organs has the potential to save human lives, but what happens when it comes to cloning an entire human? This brings up the issue of bioethics when it comes to cloning a human subject. While animal cloning has become accepted, many organizations have debated the bioethics issue. While many of these issues have been raised by religious organizations, there have been secular perspectives brought into this debate, as well. There are many countries who have also banned/limited the cloning of humans. Some countries have accepted Therapeutic cloning, has been accepted, however, even this is under strict observations and regulatory guidelines in countries where it is permitted.
Advocates support the therapeutic cloning of donor organs for the multiple medical benefits, however they draw the line at reproductive cloning (human cloning) as there are just too many ways that those clones could be mistreated as it may become a possibility that their rights would become less important than the donor’s rights. Something else to be considered is how would these clones be able to integrate into society?
There is much more to be said about the cloning process as well as the ethical debate surrounding it. Copying a human life form is no trivial matter and brings with it all sorts of possibilities. These can be good or bad and this is where most fear cloning. Until we can be more certain that it is safe, perhaps the best is for us to stick to donor organs. This is where perhaps the best, yet most time consuming and possibly dangerous option, would be iPSC where we can then program the stem cells to be cloned into specific organs. However, this is only my opinion. There will always be hazards to cloning as we are still feeling our way around the field as it were. There is a long road ahead for bio-geneticists, but perhaps one day we will be able to discover a safe and ethical way to utilize this new bio-technology.
For now, we can only wait and watch to see what happens next. I was asked what my opinion on all this was and after all the reading and consulting with geneticist friends I have done, I am very cautious of this process. There are good and bad in everything, but the bad very often comes from the human element. This is not my opinion, this is my observation from what I’ve learnt from history. Therapeutic cloning has many medical benefits, but as far as reproductive cloning goes…I find myself rather uneasy. Cloning animals and cloning humans are two very different things and come with very different responsibilities.
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