Cloning in biology is defined as “the process of producing similar populations of genetically identical individuals that occurs in nature when organisms such as bacteria, insects, or plants reproduce asexually” Cloning in biotechnology however refers to “the processes used to create copies of DNA fragments (molecular cloning), cells (cell cloning), or organisms.
Pros and cons of cloning
Pro #1: Cloning could help infertile couples have children
Con #1: The element of uncertainty as well as Inheriting diseases
Pro #2: Organ Replacement
Con #2: Cell mutation causing the body to reject the cloned organ
In 1996, the topic of cloning was introduced when we became familiar with the story of Dolly the sheep who became the first mammal to ever be cloned. She was cloned from an adult somatic cell using nuclear transfer. On July 5, 1996 Dolly was born to not just one, but three mothers. Each mother providing something that helped bring Dolly into existence. One mother provided the egg, one provided the DNA, and another carried dolly’s cloned embryo to term. Due to a progressive lung disease and severe arthritis, Dolly was euthanised on February 14, 2003.
After the cloning of Dolly the sheep in 1996, the idea of cloning became more of a reality than something you would hear about in science fiction. While no human cloning attempts have been made, there have been many advantages and disadvantages that involve the cloning of both humans and animals.
According to a survey performed by the CDC in 2002, just over 7 million women and their partners are affected by infertility. Cloning could actually help infertile couples have children of their own through somatic cell nuclear transfer (a.k.a. Reproductive cloning). Through this type of cloning, an infertile couple would in fact be able to have children with a somatic cell from the male, a female egg and a surrogate mother. This process includes extracting the nucleus of a somatic cell and inserting it into an egg which has had its own nucleus removed. The egg is then stimulated and once an embryo develops, it can then be inserted into a surrogate mother who will then carry it to term.
There are however, some disadvantages to this type of cloning. One disadvantage is the level of uncertainty there is. While Dolly the sheep was created using this same type of cloning, you have to consider that there were at least 250 eggs that were used and Dolly was the only successful outcome so in the case of using reproductive cloning, you should think of the possibility that infertile couples may face the same heartbreak that they would as if they were doing in vitro treatments.
Another disadvantage to this particular type of cloning is the chance of the clone inheriting a genetic disease. Since the somatic cells are extracted at random, there is no way of telling if the cells that are used contain traits of a disease. So if the cell used for the clone do in fact contain the traits of a genetic disease or disorder, the clone will most likely have it.
Another advantage of cloning is organ replacement. According to womenshealth.gov, there are more than 150,000 people currently on the waiting list to receive an organ transplant. Unfortunately there aren’t enough donors to help the ones who are waiting. According to donors1.org, the average wait time for a kidney is 5 years while another organ like a heart or lung can be found on average within 4 months. Unfortunately the waiting list is so long that since it is based on a first come, first served basis, some patients die before getting anywhere close to getting the organ that they desperately need. With cloning, doctors can take cells from the existing organ and make a brand new replicated organ from scratch. This technique can greatly reduce the wait time for those who are on the national organ recipient list which will give them a longer life span.
There are some disadvantages to this technique. One disadvantage is possible organ rejection due to cell mutation. Even though this technique uses the organ recipient’s own cells, there is a chance of the cells mutating causing a difference in the cell makeup of the original and the cell makeup of the new replicated organ. A slight difference in the DNA could be devastating especially in organ transplantation. Transplant patients generally take an anti-rejection medication to keep their bodies from rejecting the new organ but if you were to replicate the organ and a cell mutation occurs, it could completely ignore the anti-rejection medications since the organ would not be a compatible match to begin with.
There are many ethical reasons that are also brought into play when the subject of cloning is brought up. Some religious groups consider cloning unethical because they believe that cloning and stem cell research is wrong since it involves using cells from unborn fetuses.
I asked people about their personal views on this subject. One person said “Cloning I find interesting, but what I’m more curious about is what that could mean in terms of consciousness between two of yourself.”. Another comment that I received was “Its toying with nature as well as toying with God. Imagine if the tools used for cloning fell into the wrong hands? It would be catastrophic. However, it could be a great weapon to use in warfare.”