Reproductive Cloning: Advantages, Disadvantages And Ethical Issues
Cloning hit the mainstream news media when Dolly the sheep was successfully birthed in 1996, thus becoming the first ever mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. Cloning is a term used to describe a variety of processes that can be used to produce genetically identical copies of an entire living organism or part of a living organism. The copied product which has the same genetic characteristics as the original is referred to as a “Clone”.
Many types of biological materiials including genes, cells, tissues and even whole living organisms have been cloned by scientists.. Cloning can happen naturally without any human interference, this can be seen in the case of identical twins, this occurs when the fertilized egg separates, and then producing in most cases two separate embryos resulting in identical twins that are genetically identical, however they do not share the same genetic makeup as either of their parents. Other examples in which cloning happens in nature is through the asexual reproduction of certain plants, fungi and bacteria.
Artificial cloning can be achieved in various ways depending on the purpose. Gene cloning is aimed at producing copies of portions of DNA which can be used for treating cystic fibrosis and other genetic disorders. Therapeutic cloning produces embryonic stem cells and can be used to treat Parkinson’s Disease. Reproductive cloning generates copies of whole animals used for producing livestock without any defects. Cloning is also used in agriculture where plants are cloned for healthier and safer produce and is referred to as Plant Propagation.
The aim of this report is to provide credible information about “Reproductive Cloning”, how the process works, highlight some of the key benefits and look at its disadvantages whilst also throwing some light on the ethical debate surrounding Reproductive cloning.
Reproductive cloning or Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT) is one of the most common types of artificial Cloning mainly used for producing healthy livestock, for preventing endangered species from extinction, and for producing genetically identical animals for scientific and medical research.
The reproductive cloning process involves the removal of a mature somatic cell, such as a skin cell from the animal to be copied. The DNA of the donor animal’s somatic cell is then transferred into an enucleated egg cell, that has had its own DNA-containing nucleus removed. A needle is used to remove the DNA of the donor and then injected it into the empty egg. The alternative method is to fuse the entire somatic cell with the empty egg using an electric current. The fused egg develops into an early-stage embryo in a test-tube and then is implanted into the womb of an adult female animal. The cloned embryo then grows within the surrogate mother into a fetus. Finally, the adult female gives birth to an animal that has the same genetic makeup as the animal that donated the somatic cell.
There are many perceived benefits of cloning and some of the important ones are given below:
1. Treatment for diseases: Cloning may enable scientists to clone other animals in the fields of medicine and agriculture to benefit mankind. The Scottish scientists who cloned Dolly were also able to clone other sheep which were genetically modified to produce milk which contains a human protein very essential for the clotting of human blood. This gave rise to a posibility to extract this protein from the milk and supply it to patients suffering from hemophilia, a rare disorder in which their blood does not clot sufficiently as it lacks proteins which enable blood clotting. This is a lifesaving solution. Cloned animals can also be used Testing new drugs and developing treatment strategies is another possibilty with clonedanimals.. As the cloned animals have identical genetical makeup, drug testing becomes more effective as their reactions to the administered drugs would not vary as it does if we were to use animals with different genetic make-ups.
2. Saving endangered species from extinction: Reproductive cloning can also be used to create clones to increase the population of animal species which are endangered and are on the verge of extinction. In 2001, scientists were able to successfully clone the Asian Ox known as a “Guar”, which was an endangered animal. Unfortunately, the baby guar which was birthed using a cow as a surrogate mother lived only for a few days. A couple of years later, another endangered species of ox called the “Banteg” was cloned successfully.
3. Potential answer to infertility: Reproductive cloning can enable infertile couples to not only have children but also can modify the child’s genes to remove any undesirable traits. During the process, somatic cells are acquired from the male’s sperm and are injected into the female’s egg for fertilization. By the time the embryo has developed, it is then implanted to a surrogate mother, who will carry it for 9 months until birth. This means cloning can potentially ease fertility problems. What’s more, the children produced will have the DNAs and qualities of both parents, instead of just one of them. However, this raises severalethical issues which has resulted in many countries banning human cloning.
4. Organ Transplants: Another important benefit of cloning is producing organs for transplantation. Cloned body parts can be used to replace defective organs and in turn save lives. It offers another alternative avenue to patients needing organ transplants, as in most cases they must wait for years for a suitable donor. The cloned implanted organ has less chances of being rejected by the body as it is produced from the body cell of the person who needs the implant.
There are a few disadvantages of cloning and the main ones are listed below:
1. Loss of Genetic diversity: Genetic diversity is required for the survival of any species including humans especially in time of unpredictable events especially epidemic diseases. Animals originating from the same genetic profile will have reduced genetic diversity and this may not have any initial adverse impact on the health of the species, however, will cause problems in the long run. The chances of developing genetic disorders and other related health issues increases in children from parents with similar genetic profiles. The lack of genetic variation in a population makes it lose its ability to adapt or overcome adverse environmental changes. Thus, cloning instead of saving the species might indirectly lead to its extinction or reduction in its population.
2. Inefficient process and adverse health effects in cloned animals: The Reproductive cloning technique is not very efficient as its success rate is very low as majority of the cloned animal embryos do not develop into healthy individuals. This is demonstrated by the fact that in case of Dolly, she was the only clone to be born live out of a total of 277 cloned embryos. The application of Reproductive cloning can be effective only if its efficiency is improved and the safety concerns are addressed satisfactorily. Scientists have also observed many adverse health effects in sheep and other mammals that have been cloned, which includes increase in birth size and clones having many defective vital organs, like the liver, brain and heart.
3. Premature aging and problems with the immune system: Cloned animals tend to have a shorter lifespan. The age of the cloned animal depends on the age of its chromosomes. As cells go through their regular rounds of division, the telomeres (tips of the chromosomes) shrink. With time, the telomeres become so short that they cannot divide any further and death of the cell occurs. This is how the aging process works in all cell types. As a result, clones created from the cell taken from an adult donor will have a shorter lifespan as its chromosomes will be shorter than normal because of the age of the donor cell. This is evidenced by the fact that Dolly lived for only six years, which is about half the average lifespan of a sheep, who normally live for 12 years.
Since the topic of cloning made headlines in 1996, it has sparked many debates and disputes on whether cloning is ethical. Reproductive cloning would present the possibility of creating a human that is genetically identical to another person who has died or who is still alive. This idea clashes with many cultural, societal and religious norms and values. Cloning is seen to be something that violates these long-standing ideas. Much of the dispute is caused by the possibility that this biotechnology could be used to clone humans, this idea raised many issues however most of the concern was focused on the wellbeing of children produced using this procedure. The main concern centered around the fact that cloned individuals could be a subject of psychological harm due to a weakened sense of self-identity. Many questions how clones would fit into today’s society, would they have the same rights as a normal person? This may even create tension as cloned individuals may face discrimination or hatred. Others believe this biotechnology could be abused by organizations and governments, for example, humans could be cloned solely for the purpose of them being made into soldiers. Although there are not that many ethical issues surrounding therapeutic cloning there is one that is highly debated among individuals as some believe that the technique of therapeutic cloning is equivalent to murder as this process involves destruction of the human embryos, however, others believe quite the opposite as they believe embryos are comparable to skin cells that are shed on a daily basis. Cloning has been used in many laboratories world wide neverthles it poses many ethical and moral issues.
Cloning and in particular reproductive cloning has been proved to be a significant discovery in the world of science, it has potential to innovate and change the world around us however this new found technology has a long way to go in terms of safety, legalities, research and ethics.
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