September 24, 2000
The Clones are Coming!
In 1997 the
Roslin Institute, just outside Edinburgh, Scotland, made
history by cloning a sheep using a technique called nuclear transfer.
Dolly became famous around the world as the first cloned farm animal.
This development sent the world into turmoil regarding the implications,
both good and bad, of cloning. Regardless of the controversy, cloning is
here to stay.
Basically there are two known techniques for cloning. The embryo
separation technique is actually one that happens in nature. Identical
twins are a result of the natural separation of an embryo into two
identical embryos. This process can be done artificially by separating
an embryo when it reaches the four-cell stage. The other technique that
is currently raising the fuss is called nuclear transfer.
Nuclear transfer is a pretty simple concept. You need two creatures,
one to provide an infertile ovum and another to provide a cell nucleus.
The one providing the cell nucleus is the one being cloned. The nucleus
is removed from the cell and implanted in the infertile ovum. The ovum
is then given an electrical shock to fuse the new nucleus into the ovum.
The ovum is then implanted into the womb of the host animal and, voila,
you get a genetic duplicate of the creature that donated the cell
The implications of this simple technique are astounding to the
imagination, especially when it comes to the possibilities of cloning
humans. This is where most of the controversy lies. Is it ethical? What
are the religious implications?
What are the scientific possibilities? These questions will be
answered soon enough because clone research is continuing.
The Missyplicity Project is a Texas organization whose goal is to
clone a dog named Missy who is getting on in years. They have recently
completed their laboratory and also are working on a "gene
bank" where cells taken from living creatures can be stored just in
case somebody wants to clone them later. This brings up the possibility
of gene banks being like seed banks. The Genetic
Savings and Clone is one such bank. We could conceivable collect cells
from endangered species and store them to help preserve bio-diversity.
Beyond the sentimental possibility of cloning your pets, why not
clone your relatives? You could get a cell from your grandfather and
raise him yourself as a child! People are already contacting cloning
organizations to see if they can clone a relative who is dying, or even
already dead (they havenít been able to clone from dead tissue yet, so
donít get your hopes up). Still, human cloning is right around the
Visit Clonaid.com, for example. This Bahamas-based company, founded
by a group called the International
Raelian Organization, will be offering
cloning services as soon as they can find a place where human cloning
hasnít been made illegal yet. For as little as $200,000 you can get
granny cloned. They have hosts waiting to gestate the clones and rumor
has it they have already begun the process and a human clone may be
entering the world for the first time before the end of this year!
Even though the cloning of dead tissue has not been successful, it is
still theoretically possible. This opens up even more possibilities. For
example, a woolly mammoth, a creature extinct for thousands of years,
was found frozen in the ice in Siberia. A surprising amount of tissue
was still intact. We could take one of its cells and, via the nuclear
transfer technique, use an elephant as a host to clone the mammoth. No
doubt, there are unseen problems with this but, hey, what an idea!
Letís go even further. Why not clone Jesus? There are holy relics
all over the world that supposedly contain Jesusí hair, etc. Or maybe
cells can be taken from the Shroud of Turin and cloned. This isnít my
idea. There are at least two "Clone Jesus" web sites out
there: Christians for the Cloning of Jesus
and The Second Coming Project.
The somewhat disappointing problem with cloning is the fact that it
can only reproduce identical genetic material. If you cloned your
brother, he would have an identical body but his personality and
identity would be different in much the same way that natural identical
twins are not carbon copies of each other in the personality department.
You wouldnít get your long lost brother back. Youíd just get someone
who looked like him. You would also have to wait for him to grow up.
Clones donít grow any faster than natural babies.
Another hope that may be dashed is the idea that we could grow
spare-parts bodies. Cloning identical duplicates of yourself just in
case one of your organs fails will not be good idea since each clone
will have its own identity and personality. If individual organs could
be cloned and maintained apart from a living person, that would be
There are serious ethical considerations
surrounding all the implications of cloning. Laws are fast being created
to make human cloning illegal and to establish protocols for cloning
that would, hopefully, limit potential problems. ReligiousTolerance.org
has a great page on the ethical
considerations of cloning. Religious leaders are
trying to decide if cloning is against their beliefs, and fearful people
are envisioning catastrophes. In the meantime, excited scientists and
business people are researching, experimenting and planning their
commercial ventures. Cloning has already begun. Here come the clones!
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