Clones are living organisms that are genetically identical to another organism. Although cloning can be seen in nature (e.g. twins and organisms that reproduce asexually), it is possible for scientists to clone animals. The personality of the clones, however, is not the same as the original animal’s due to the environment and random mutations occurring during development in the womb. Scientists have cloned a number of animals including domestic pets, livestock and more.
Cloning can be used by livestock breeders and farmers to preserve desired traits from elite animals. These cloned livestock are used for conventional breeding, and their sexually reproduced offspring are used as food. By sexually reproducing the best animals in the herd, it allows farmers to raise the collective quality of the herd in a shorter amount of time than conventional breeding. It is important to note that cloning is very expensive, with prices ranging from at least $35k-100k (depending on the animal).
Animal cloning today uses a process called SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer). The process starts with the scientists collecting somatic cells from an animal to be cloned (the “genetic donor”). Then from a female animal (known as the “egg donor”), scientists collect oocytes (egg cells), and remove the nucleus. The nucleus is transferred from the genetic donor’s cell and into the oocyte. An electro cell manipulator then sends a series of short electrical shocks fusing the cell and egg membranes. If no complications occur, the cell will divide, thus resulting in a fertilised embryo. The embryo is then inserted into the uterus of the surrogate mother, where the egg will continue to develop. The surrogate mother will then deliver the clone as normal after a full-term pregnancy (unless c-section is required). The final product is a genetically identical animal to the donor.
(Figure 1: Cloning Fact Sheet, 2017)
The most famous clone around is Dolly the Sheep. Dolly was cloned in July 1996, as part of a series of experiments conducted by The Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland. Dolly is arguably the most important clone created, the reason being that she was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. Dolly’s creation showed scientists that specialised cells have the ability to be used to create a genetically identical copy of the donor animal. This information unlocked a world of possibilities in the medicinal and biology fields – including the development of iPS cells that have the ability to model human diseases. Along with the successful creation of Dolly, it suggested that it may be possible to clone humans someday.
In May 2013, scientists in Oregon Health and Science University used the Dolly cloning method to produce stem cells from a cloned human embryo. This led to Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka who in 2006, transformed an ordinary adult cell into a stem cell in mice, and then was able to replicate this finding in humans. This breakthrough was significant as it provided an alternative to using human embryos and a more ethical one.
The ethics of animal cloning comes into question and there are many perspectives on the morals of it. These varying ethical opinions come from a variety of sources including different countries, religious groups, officials and concerned members of the public. It is interesting to find the reasons and motives for some countries permitting and the research and use of animal cloning. To be discussed are also some of the more controversial topics of cloning such as using cloning to bring back extinct species.
In 2008, the European Commission requested that the European Group on Ethics give their position on the topic of cloning animals for food. There was concern about the effects of cloning on the animal’s health and welfare. This was based on the low success rate of cloning (6% for pigs, and 6-15% for livestock). Complications are also more prone to clones than to conventionally bred offspring. Some risks include a higher chance for cloned embryos to be lost during pregnancy and LOS (Large Offspring Syndrome). LOS has adverse effects on the offspring and surrogate as it results in the fetus growing too large in the uterus and causing growth defects in the clone. The conclusion was drawn that cloning shouldn’t occur because of the animals suffering and there was no moral justification for its use. More recently in 2015, the European Parliament took action in voting for the ban of animal cloning. This legislation states that all-clone derived products are to be banned from the European markets – including offspring that descend from a clone.
Among many countries, the United States is on board with the use of cloning in livestock. In 2008, the U.S. Food & Drugs Administration approved of it and stated that consuming meat and dairy originating from clones are safe. The FDA addresses their considerations on the ethics of cloning by stating, “The relevant issues in this context for the agency are limited to the animal health and food safety issues. The agency is not charged with addressing moral, religious, or ethical issues related to animal cloning for agricultural purposes.” (FDA, 2018).
The FDA is criticised by some that they allowed clones into the food supply without different panels’ research and advice on the adverse effects of cloning – like in Europe. Non profit organisations (including the Center for Food Safety and AAVS) along with other groups concerned about cloned animal’s welfare petitioned for the establishment of an Advisory Committee for the FDA discussing ethics. The purpose of the council was to give the public an opportunity to be involved in the ethical debate on animal cloning and for transparency on the topic. The FDA however decided to reject the petition. Surveys conducted by AAVS on the American public shows that 66% disapprove of animal cloning for food and furthermore, after people learn that animals suffer for cloning, 88% disapprove of its use for food (AAVS, 2006). This shows how unaware the public is of the processes of animal cloning. It is hard for consumers to differentiate cloned produce from not as food derived from clones aren’t required to be labelled according to the FDA.
The religious argument of “playing god” is a major ethical consideration. Playing god refers to when we: “make choices concerning abortion, genetic engineering, the basic conditions of future life on the planet, interference with evolutionary processes, or any radical tampering with the allegedly ‘natural’ development of human beings and their environment” (Cohen, 2014). By cloning, we are playing with the building blocks of life, creating ‘unnatural’ genetically manipulated organisms and attempting to revive the dead. By using this logic, it is easy to see how we are overstepping our moral boundaries by interfering with matters that humans have no authority over. Some may counter this and argue that the ‘unnaturalness’ only applies to the process before the birth of the clone, but not the end product.
A type of wild goat known as Pyrenean ibex, or commonly bucardo, was hunted down to a few dozen in 1989. The last one (a female they named Celia) was crushed by a tree in January 2000. However, Celia’s cells were preserved in labs after her death. The following years found a team of scientists coming together to try and bring the bucardo back, using Celia’s cells. However the last mother carried Celia’s clone for a full-term pregnancy. On July 30, 2003, the clone was delivered through c-section. At delivery, the clone was in bad shape. As veterinarian Fernández-Arias held the ibex he said “he could see that she was struggling to take in air, her tongue jutting grotesquely out of her mouth” (Zimmer, 2013). The clone died after 10 minutes of suffering and it was later revealed that 1 lung had grown a large and solid extra lobe, and there was nothing that could have been done to save it. The ethics of de-extinction comes into question. What are the reasons we are doing this in the first place, and, is all the suffering worth the final outcome? Some may believe we have a moral obligation to bring extinct species back because we were the cause of their extinction. Michael Archer says, “If we’re talking about species we drove extinct, then I think we have an obligation to try to do this” (Zimmer, 2013). However some of the negative consequences of resurrecting extinct animals include losing genetic diversity and possibly introducing species that pose fatal risks to other species. By cloning – although it may increase the number of animals – it could result in the loss of genetic diversity due to them all being genetically identical. This is bad because the population could effectively become inbred and leave them vulnerable to diseases or genetic diseases. This means that if 1 fatal mutation was to occur, the following generations would probably die out. By reintroducing animals back into the eco-systems, they could negatively impact the surrounding flora and fauna by becoming an invasive species themselves. And with the drastic changes to Earth’s environment, we wouldn’t know how the animal would adapt to these changes or just become extinct.
After careful consideration of all the research and experiments that have been done in the area of animal cloning, I have drawn my own conclusions as to what I believe are beneficial or harmful to society. A benefit of animal cloning is that it allows for scientific breakthroughs. An example of this are the discoveries made from the creation of Dolly the Sheep, including Shinya’s nobel prize award winning discovery. His finding created an alternative for embryos and perhaps the unethical cloning of Dolly was worth it as it broadened the horizon for medical research. Through further research we could apply cloning techniques to create organs for human transplant and find cures to genetic diseases. Another positive is that it could help aid struggling species by breeding the ones with more desirable traits and possibly introducing beneficial mutations to the species which will increase survival through natural selection.
There are also a number of harmful things that come with animal cloning. This includes giving unfair disadvantages to farmers that don’t use it within livestock – and if used in livestock, it isn’t labelled in the final product. Another reason is that we may use the possibility of being able to clone extinct animals as an excuse to take no action to prevent extinction in the first place. Regarding pet cloning, I believe there isn’t enough transparency to customers on the procedures taken place before receiving the clone.
My stance is that research into animal cloning should not be done. Starting with cloning in livestock and markets, we must take into account the perspective of someone who may not be benefited by the advancement. If the best meat and dairy producers are using cloning to raise the overall quality of their herd, then there will be an expectation for other farmers to reach their standard. If other farmers can’t afford cloning the best animals in the herd and using their offspring, then consumers may not reach for their produce as it isn’t of higher quality. This then directly affects the farmer’s earning. Therefore, the implication of animal cloning would give an unfair advantage to farmers who can afford it and will yield more profits compared to a farming not using the method. Furthermore, I think that the FDA should take the responsibility of labelling products that derived from animal clones. This is because buyers have a right to know such information so they can make informed decisions on whether or not they want to consume cloned derived produce.
I do not think that we should use cloning to revive the extinct species. This is because there are too many risks and unknown variables for us to continue without extensive research on possible flow on effects of releasing them into ecosystems. Even then, if scientists get it wrong, you have a new overpopulating or invasive animal on our hand that wasn’t predicted. A prime example of this was the introduction of Kane Toads to Australia as a means to handle pest populations. However, plans backfired as the toads started putting species at risk that weren’t pests like lizards, crocodiles, snakes. We are now reaping the consequences of that ill-thought out decision and trying to reverse the damage done.
This is because cloning usually calls for many trials for a successful birth during which unnecessary suffering occurs. Relating back to Dolly the Sheep’s case, it took 277 embryos for the birth of the animal. That’s 29 early embryos that were developed and implanted into 13 different surrogate sheep. And as mentioned before, the surrogate mother’s lives are at risk because of complications in pregnancy. The same suffering stemming from unsuccess occured when scientists attempted cloning Celia. They used the SCNT method and after a total of 57 inserted fertilised eggs, 7 females became pregnant and 6/7 pregnancies ended in complications and therefore miscarriages. This is also why pet cloning should not be allowed. Sooam – a korean company that clones dogs – says that there’s only a 40% success rate. So after all the invasive surgeries done on the surrogate(s) and egg donor, it is unjustifiable for us to put animals through that much pain and suffering for our selfish desires.