Even though the word “Cloning” has often been looked up to as an ethically debatable concept, it refers to the natural form of reproduction. The term “Clone” was coined from an ancient Greek word by H.J. Webber. Cloning is the process that has allowed the spread and survival of life forms for millions of years. It is the reproductive method used by bacteria, fungi and plants. When cloning is used in science, it is merely an adaptation of what occurs in the natural world. Identical human twins are natural clones and occur every 150 births. This process can occur in other mammals as well and at a higher frequency than expected. Human cloning is the genetic process of artificially creating a genetically identical human being.
The term “Artificial cloning” refers to the cloning done by humans, outside nature in sterilized labs with expensive equipment. The three major types of artificial cloning are gene cloning, reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. Gene cloning, also known as molecular cloning refers to the process of cloning a foreign piece of DNA that codes for genetic information into a self-replicating plasmid DNA. Gene cloning has received scientific and government support as it is a fully in vitro technique that replicates only a few genes and not the entire embryo. Reproductive cloning, also known as somatic cell nuclear transfer is the process of cloning the entire organism and is the dominant form of animal cloning today. The technique involves the formation of an embryo and hence has attracted several ethical, religious, emotional and moral considerations. Therapeutic cloning, also known as embryo cloning creates a cloned embryo that forms stem cells for research to study human diseases and development. It also received negative views as it needs to destroy the embryo and is a criminal offence in several countries.
The general process of cloning
The general process of cloning involves the use of a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT). In this technique, the nucleus of the donor somatic cell is transferred to an egg cell whose nucleus has been removed. A somatic cell is any body cell, except the germ cells and stem cells. The process of SCNT can be accomplished by microneedle injection or electrical fusion. The fused cell now has the DNA of the somatic cell which was used for the fusion. The embryo developed by this process is then transferred into a female womb where it is carried to term. After birth, the genetic composition of the resulting animal is exactly similar to the animal whose somatic cell was used. This procedure was employed for the generation of known examples of cloned animals. The first artificial cloning was done in tadpole in 1952 while the first SCNT was done in 1996 in Scotland in sheep, resulting in Dolly. After the tremendous success of Dolly, attempts were made and are being made to clone most animals. Some of the examples include Tasmanian tiger (1999), goat Mira (1999), the Rhesus Macaque Tetra (1999), pig Xena (2000), the dog Snuppy (2005), macaque monkey (2018), and so on.
Pros and Cons of reproductive cloning
- Cloned animals are employed for drug testing as the results will be more predictable and cost-effective when genetically identical animals are used.
- The FDA approved the consumption of meat and milk from cloned cattle.
- Cloned food products will enable easy replication of beneficial traits in cattle.
- Cloning can provide ways to increase the population of endangered animals.
- Cloning can also bring back the fully extinct animals if sufficient DNA is available.
- Organs generated using cloning will not face any transplant rejection as the genetic match of the tissues can be achieved.
- The occurrence of genetic diseases can be eliminated by destroying the embryos positive for the disease and by selectively implanting the embryos negative for the disease.
- The future development of cloning and stem cell research techniques may answer several questions related to tissue regeneration, cancer biology, infertility, ageing, drug response, inheritance of specific traits, genetic diseases and, so on.
- The cloning of animals is an ethically debatable concept.
- Cloning techniques are very expensive with very low success rates.
- Clones are not a replica of the host as the cloned embryo will have mitochondrial DNA which may trigger immune rejection.
- Most of the clones die after implantation. Of the few that survive, the majority of them are unhealthy.
- The technique is highly inefficient as the cloned animals don’t often reach adulthood.
- The animals reaching adulthood are often posed with adverse effects in the brain, heart, liver, etc.
- Cloned animals are mostly immuno-compromised making them highly susceptible to infections and cancer.
- There is physical harm to the embryo and psychological harm to the child which is coupled with a degradation in the quality of life.
Issues associated with human cloning
Human cloning is the genetic process of artificially creating a genetically identical human being. This specifically refers to the process of therapeutic cloning which involves the cloning of embryonic stem cells to produce damaged tissues for treatment or organs for transplantation. It is highly controversial research that involves various considerations at religious, social, political and ethical levels that are related to human rights and integrity. Some of the issues are listed below:
- The process of human cloning endangers human values, jeopardizes human dignity and uniqueness.
- Christianity expressed its sentiments as the use of techniques to make a clone prejudices the concept of a kid being born to a mother and father.
- Islam says that cloning is a sin as it is against the law of nature and because of the hardships the embryo faces during the process of cloning.
- The creation of a human embryo solely for harvesting specialized type of cells is said to violate the dignity of the unborn human as he is being denied to live his own life.
- A crucial problem is regarding the ownership of a human being as the parental rights are not clear due to the development of the embryo occurs in an artificial uterus.
- In human cloning, the humans are often manipulated as an object and the autonomy and awareness of the individual are destroyed.
- Human cloning may affect the viability of the individual.
- Cloning may generate a new form of slavery through the generation of clones with superior intellect and physical abilities.
Because of these ethical, moral, emotional, social and psychological issues, cloning is banned in most countries.
Prospects of human cloning
The prospects of human cloning will create an opportunity to develop and implement an effective mechanism for implementing cloning research. New regulations which govern worldwide human cloning research can be made. Cloning is merely a replication of the already existing individual and is not a reproduction. This may mean that cloning must not necessarily follow the rights associated with human reproduction and sexual behaviour. Scientists should be given enough time and resources to prove that there are safe ways to clone an organism and to show that cloning is a very effective means of giving a healthy society. The reported progress in the field of animal cloning deserves responsible regulation and not medieval prohibition.
- Sandel MJ, 2005. The ethical implications of human cloning. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 48(2):241-247
- Ayala FJ, 2015. Cloning humans? Biological, ethical and social considerations. PNAS. 112(29): 8879-8886
- Nasrullah, Iqbal RK, BiBi S, Muneer S, Bibi S, Anwar FA, 2020. Ethical issues of human cloning. Journal of Medical Sciences. 40(3): 103-106
- Terec-Vlad L, Terec-Vlad D, 2013. Ethical aspects with Human cloning. Procedia Social and Behavioral sciences 92:920-924
- Hilli DA, 2006. Cloning: A dilemma practised but not solved. Bahrain Medical Bulletin. 28(1)