You’ve probably seen old sci-fi movies where the protagonist enters a machine and a burst of light escapes the same machine, followed by the exit of hundreds of identical clones exit, that are ready to obey their master’s every command. Today, cloning is a very promising prospect, but these clones aren’t following our commands. They are furthering our knowledge of science and our world.
For the sake of understanding, I think it is beneficial to define a clone. A clone is an identical copy of something. It could be a cluster of cells or an entire organism. Cloning actually occurs naturally. Identical twins are considered clones because the embryo splits and produces two identical clusters of cells early on in the developmental period. These cells continue to divide and differentiate, soon becoming separate, identical individuals. Artificial embryo twinning is a similar process, only this is done in a laboratory setting. Hans Adolf Eduard Driesch was among the first to artificially create identical organisms in a lab using this process. He separated a sea urchin embryo that eventually become two complete and separate sea urchins. Hans Spemann was the first to complete this process with vertebrates in 1902. He used a tied piece of baby hair to split embryonic salamander cells and successfully “cloned” them using the same artificial embryo twinning process. Spemann’s work in cloning didn’t end there. He also discovered that the cell nucleus controls embryonic development. He split an embryonic cell in between the nucleus and cytoplasm and discovered that only the side with the nucleus was dividing further. This work in artificial embryo twinning contributes to our understanding of cloning and lead to nuclear transfer cloning. (University of Utah).
Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer, or SCNT, is a more recent approach to cloning. This process takes the nucleus of a somatic cell (or “body cell”, this cell contains DNA and genetic information from a specific organism) and transfers it to a fertilized egg cell. The egg cell is implanted into a surrogate mother where it will develop and be born. This egg cell will use this new nucleus and become an identical copy of the somatic nucleus donor. (University of Utah). This method was used to create the famous clone “Dolly the Sheep”. Dolly was the only sheep embryo to develop out of many tries because somatic cells have to “reset” to an embryonic state and often fail to do so. (University of Utah). However, the creation of Dolly brought cloning into the spotlight. What would follow would include more experiments using nuclear transfer and conversations about the implications of cloning.
With the future of potentially cloning humans rapidly approaching, the argument of the ethics of cloning has become prevalent in the scientific community. Perhaps one of the most significant social objections to cloning compares it to genetic engineering. It goes against what it is natural and accepted. Cloning strives to create a specific type of organism. In this case, we would want to clone a generation of intelligent, athletic, and attractive people. (Harvard University). Another source objects to cloning animals because of the concern of animal welfare. (End Animal Cloning). On the issue of animal cloning, it is also a concern on the safety of the food produced from these cloned animals. These animals often have health issues which are treated heavily with antibiotics and hormones. These are already known to be potentially unhealthy for humans. (Center for Food Safety).
Despite the concerns, others find cloning to be positive and full of opportunity. Scientists hope that one day cloning can restore dwindling species on the edge of extinction. (Scientific American). Cloning could create models of disease quicker and more successfully than past methods of genetically engineering animals. These transgenic animals could provide models to study the spread of disease and potential treatments. Cloning can also produce stem cells. Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can be used for various purposes. One of the most successful and promising uses is repairing damaged tissues and organs. Stem cells can even potentially grow an entirely new organ. Stem cells are often limited in nature, but cloning would provide a way to produce a limitless number of these cells. Cloning may even be used to replace a deceased pet. A U.S. biotechnology company offers “cat cloning” services. Their first cat, CC (or Carbon Copy), was cloned in 2001 from a beloved, deceased cat, Rainbow. (University of Utah).
Regardless of your views, the days of cloning are upon us. This technology provides limitless and exciting opportunities. So, the next time you watch that old sci-fi movie where the main character is cloned, you can laugh about what we used to think about the future of cloning.
For more information on cloning, you can visit one of my favorite resources for learning about genetics (obviously), learn.genetics.utah.edu.
References and Footnotes
“What is Cloning?”, University of Utah, http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/cloning/whatiscloning/
“History of Cloning.” University of Utah, http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/cloning/clonezone/
“The Ethical Implications of Human Cloning”, Michael J. Sandal, Harvard University, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/sandel/files/ethical_implications_of_human_cloning.pdf
“Ethics.”, End Animal Cloning, http://www.endanimalcloning.org
“Animal Cloning”, Center For Food Safety, https://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/302/animal-cloning/about-cloned-animals
“Will Cloning Ever Save Endangered Animals?”, Ferris Jabr, The Scientific American, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/cloning-endangered-animals/
“Why Clone?”, University of Utah, http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/cloning/whyclone/