Despite the occasional story about cloning in the news, people generally associate cloning with the world of science-fiction. Cloning is not some far-off possibility, however. Experiments involving and successful attempts at cloning are happening now in labs across the world. There are three types of cloning: DNA cloning, reproductive cloning, and therapeutic cloning.
When you hear about cloning in the news, most often it is in reference to reproductive cloning which involves creating “a new individual which is genetically identical to the original individual” (Mader and Windelspecht). Nature already does this through the birth of identical twins that are genetic copies of one another; however, the process can be recreated in a laboratory setting through one of two processes: artificial embryo twinning and somatic cell nuclear transfer (Genetic Science Learning Center). The latter was used to create one of the most famous examples of cloning in the media, Dolly the Sheep, who was the first mammal to be cloned using an adult cell (CNN World). While cloning is still fairly controversial, this type of cloning could potentially be used for medical reasons such as cloning stem cells for research or cloning animal models of disease to save researchers the time spent creating the disease-causing gene mutations (Genetic Science Learning Center). DNA cloning involves cloning individual genes and is often used in the study of heredity and the study of various diseases that may have genetic links. Therapeutic cloning is the cloning of embryos for the purpose of harvesting stems cells for research (U.S. Department of Energy Genome Program). The process of therapeutic cloning is controversial because the embryo is destroyed in the process. The research done in conjunction with therapeutic cloning hopes to use stem cells to cure a multitude of diseases.
There is a multitude of ethical issues related to cloning. For example, many people view an embryo as a human life from the moment of conception so destroying it for the purpose of collecting stem cells is, for them, the equivalent of murder. Others might see the cloning of people or animals as “playing God”, but such a line of thought would bring into question most other scientific and medical research or practices such as in vitro fertilization. However, it could be argued that all scientific advancement may have seemed scary when first proposed and might have made it seem like the scientists of the time were ‘playing God’ because the average person did not understand what they were doing or the potential benefits. While scary at first, these advancements eventually become part of our everyday lives. An example of this is life support which can keep a person alive much longer than they would be able to unassisted. Life support gives medical professionals extra time to save an individual. However, keeping a person alive via artificial means could also be said to be ‘playing God’.
How far scientists will be able to go with cloning remains a mystery since many countries currently prohibit human cloning by law. What all can be accomplished by cloning is yet to be known, but there are certainly benefits to be had in the medical field through disease research. While cloning is not yet at a level where it competes with the science-fiction movie world, it is impressive and perhaps deserves greater public awareness.
CNN World. First cloned sheep Dolly dies at 6. 14 February 2003. 29 October 2012. <http://articles.cnn.com/2003-02-14/world/cloned.dolly.dies_1_dolly-s-dna-older-sheep-ian-wilmut?_s=PM:WORLD>.
Genetic Science Learning Center. Cloning. 6 August 2012. 29 October 2012. <http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/tech/cloning/>.
Mader, Sylvia S. and Michael Windelspecht. Essentials of Biology. 3rd. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2012.
U.S. Department of Energy Genome Program. Cloning Fact Sheet. 11 May 2009. 29 October 2012. <http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/elsi/cloning.shtml#links>.