Term Paper: Cloning Benefits

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¶ … Cloning

History and Background of Cloning.

Possible Negative Consequences and their Consequences.

Alternative Solutions.

Rebuttals of Opponents.


An Analysis of the Potential Benefits of Cloning

The ongoing heated debates concerning the ethical aspects of using human stem-cells, a therapeutic form of cloning, to advance medicine highlight the need for better oversight of science when real people are involved. In reality, though, stem-cells appear positively benign when compared with the potential benefits - and risks some critics say -- to be realized through the cloning of animals and possibly humans. The vivid scenes portrayed in the "Jurassic Park" movies, though, are intended to entertain and shock rather than educate, and many observers may come away from these motion pictures with a skewed perception of what cloning is really all about and the potential benefits it represents for the human race. To clear up some of the mystery and misperceptions, this paper provides an overview of cloning and an analysis of the potential benefits to be realized through cloning technology. An assessment of the possible negative consequences and the impact of cloning technology is followed by a discussion of possible alternative approaches and a discussion of what opponents have to say about these issues. A summary of the research and salient findings are presented in the conclusion.

Review and Analysis

History and Background of Cloning. Cloning is a fundamental component of the biological processes of the majority of living things because the body cells of plants and animals are actually clones that are derived from the mitosis of a single fertilized egg (Baird, 2002). According to this author, "A clone is the name for a group of organisms or other living matter with exactly the same genetic material. The word clone has been applied to cells as well as to organisms, so a group of cells stemming from a single cell is also called a clone. Cloning is the production of an exact genetic duplicate of a living organism or cell" (Baird, 2002, p. 20). For many observers today, though, the processes involved in cloning can be confusing and may not be able to be satisfied with a simple definition. Nevertheless, cloning frequently takes place in the natural world without any human involvement; for instance, in humans and other higher animals, clones develop naturally through genetically identical multiple births (Baird, 2002). Single-celled organisms including bacteria, protozoa, and yeast, also produce genetically identical offspring through asexual reproduction; offspring from these organisms develop from only one parent and are therefore considered to be clones (Baird, 2002). Likewise, plants are able to reproduce asexually through a process called vegetative propagation and a number of plants exhibit this ability by producing suckers, tubers, or bulbs to colonize the area surrounding the parent. In addition, simple animals such as hydras and flatworms can be cloned through asexual reproduction or the process of regeneration (Baird, 2002).

When it is used as an artificial technique, though, cloning is accomplished through nuclear transfer that involves taking the nucleus of a cultured cell and transferring it to an unfertilized egg cell, which has had its genetic material removed (Baird, 2002). In order to effectively understand the science of human cloning, the term cloning must be further defined to differentiate between two basic applications for the technology: (a) reproductive cloning and (b) therapeutic cloning. According to Baird, reproductive cloning uses the cloning procedure to produce a clonal embryo that is implanted in a woman's womb with intent to create a fully formed living child (Baird, 2002). By contrast, therapeutic cloning uses the cloning procedure to produce a clonal embryo; however, rather than being implanted in a womb and brought to term, the clonal embryo is used to generate stem cells (Baird, 2002).

While the technologies supporting cloning techniques today are highly sophisticated and require highly skilled technicians (this is changing, though - see further discussion below), the ability of some animals such as earthworms and starfish to be cloned simply by dividing them into two pieces has been known since ancient times (Baird, 2002). With these invertebrates, each piece has the ability to regenerate into a complete organism, but scientific efforts to successfully clone vertebrates have proven to be much more difficult. According to Baird:

Beginning in the late 1800s, scientists began to question why a cell develops to become specialized in function despite the fact that all cells in an organism originate from the same fertilized egg. In 1902, Hans Spemann, a German embryologist, split a two-celled salamander embryo in two. Following the division, each cell grew to be an adult salamander. Spemann's success with splitting a single cell into two disproved earlier hypotheses that the amount of genetic information carried by a cell diminishes with each division. (2002, p. 20)

By 1928, Spemann has concluded his first nuclear transfer experiment in which he transferred the nucleus of a salamander embryo cell to a cell without a nucleus; this single cell then grew a normal salamander embryo, thereby proving that the nucleus from an early embryo cell possessed the capability of guiding the complete growth of a different salamander (Baird, 2002). The author emphasizes that at this point in time, "Spemann had created a clone. The cloning of higher organisms would be proposed by Spemann as the next logical step; however, he was unable to technically devise a method to attempt any such experiments. No one would succeed in doing so until Robert Briggs and Thomas J. King successfully cloned tadpoles in 1952" (Baird, 2002, p. 20). The history of innovations in cloning then leads to two development biologists at what is now the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia; Robert Briggs and Thomas King developed the process of nuclear transfer using body cells from frog embryos to produce tadpoles and their work fueled renewed interest within the scientific community, and throughout the 1950s, scientists clone amphibians such as frogs and salamanders using nuclear transfer (it remains unclear, though, whether the specialization of cells means that only certain cells have certain genes, or if the genes that are not used by the cell are just inactivated) (Baird, 2002). During the early 1960s, a British molecular biologist conducting research on nuclear transfer successfully produced adult frogs from tadpole intestine cells, thereby proving that even specialized cells are totipotent (a term that refers to the organism's ability to retain sufficient information to produce a complete organism) (Baird, 2002). During the 1960s and 1970s, though, efforts by the scientific community to create a cloned vertebrate that could survive to adulthood were universally unsuccessful. In this regard, Baird (2002) notes that although producing a viable cloned vertebrate appeared beyond the ken of scientists at the time, cloning technology took another turn in 1972, with the first cloning of a gene. Further, during the 1970s, scientists injected human DNA into newly fertilized mouse eggs to produce mice that were part human. When these genetically altered mice reproduce, they transmit their human genetic material to their offspring, creating "transgenic" mice, a procedure that provides scientists with the ability to study different human diseases by creating mice with the appropriate genetic composition (Baird, 2002).

Further innovations in cloning technology during the 1980s involved the first mammals, sheep, and cows being cloned from embryonic cells; however, these animals were cloned from embryonic cells through a process known as "embryo splitting," wherein genetic material of both parents is retained because the embryos are sexually fertilized (Baird, 2002). These clones from embryonic cells from the same parents fertilized at different times are as different as siblings; this cloning technique has proven particularly useful to livestock breeders and by the 1990s, using this technique, various animals such as pigs, sheep, cows, and rabbits have been cloned (Baird, 2002).

The world's first mammal cloned from a cell of an adult animal, a sheep named "Dolly," was born in 1996; however, her existence was not reported to the world until February 1997 (Baird, 2002). According to this author, "Dolly was cloned from a cell taken from the udder of an adult ewe at the Roslin Institute in Scotland by Ian Wilmut and his colleagues. The following year, scientists at the University of Hawaii cloned more than 50 mice from adult cells, creating three generations of identical laboratory animals" (p. 20). In his book, on Cloning, Harris (2004) reports that, "The birth of Dolly, the world-famous cloned sheep, triggered the most extraordinary re-awakening of interest in, and concern about, cloning and indeed about scientific and technological innovation and its regulation and control. She has fuelled debate in a number of fora: genetic and scientific, political and moral, journalistic and literary" (p. 1). The controversy over Dolly has created a number of misconceptions and outright fallacies concerning cloning, though, including the myth that this lone sheep somehow represents a danger to humanity, the human gene pool, genetic diversity, the ecosystem, the world as it is currently known, and to the very survival of the human species (Harris, 2004).

Today, the biotechnology of cloning… [END OF PREVIEW]

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