Jack oughton cloning in brief


Published on

Published in: Technology
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

Jack oughton cloning in brief

  1. 1. CLONING Jack Oughton As the rate of scientific advancement increases exponentially, I would argue that it is beginning to outpace our ability to cope with the answers and possibilities it unveils. For as long as the human mind has been able to generate creative solutions to problems, the core principle of scientific advancement has held true, from the first person who discovered that fire could be tamed, to the discovery of gravity, the process has been inherently the same. Historically, major scientific change has usually been resisted, people do not like to have the foundations of their beliefs pulled out from underneath their feet. Scientific innovation is generally subtler than the massive leaps that most people think of, for example, the gradual improvement in computer technology that allows the average Personal Computer to process faster, or the increasing sophistication of mobile phones. Only the most fanatical person would argue from a philosophical standpoint against computers becoming more affordable. However, the speed of science in other fields is not looked upon so favorably, in fact it actually divides people on ethical and spiritual grounds. One of the most controversial subjects of today is biotechnology, and within this volatile field, nothing stirs up emotions and argument more than cloning. What? Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA) are the essential ingredients for life on earth. They are nucleic acids, forming the structures of cells within all life and carrying and preserving the information that is required to create and maintain all known life. The processes by which they work are immensely complicated, with many different sequences performing different roles dependent and independent of each other. The main role of DNA molecules is the long-term storage of information; DNA contains the instructions needed to construct other components of cells, such as proteins and RNA molecules, DNA could be described as the blueprint for life. The DNA segments that carry genetic information are called genes, and other DNA molecules control the expression (activity and dominance of certain genes). Thus, understanding and being able to modify these structures gives humans a mastery of over the development of life itself, and the ability to affect it, much as you could rewrite a computer program. Cloning is simply the process of creating identical copies of genetic material. It occurs in nature frequently, such as in the asexual reproduction of bacteria, which can result in huge numbers of clone bacterium multiplying and splitting from just one original copy. Or in identical twins, formed from an unusual splitting of the zygote at the early stage of fertilization. The most important thing about cloning is that it is simply a process, a means to an end, but the ends it makes possible are where the real controversy lies. Humanity has been manipulating the genetics of nature for millennia; unfavorable traits in domesticated animals have been removed by selectively breeding them out. The first domestication of dogs is thought to have begun as early as 10,000BC. The widespread cultivation of the world’s staple crops was only achieved by so directly interfering with the reproduction of certain mutant cereal grains so greatly that they have nothing in common with their wild common ancestors. The grafting of favourable plants in agriculture and horticulture is looked upon as a ‘natural’ process, but is essentially cloning, since all the shoots and branches coming from the graft are genetically a clone of a single individual. The grafting of plants with which suited human needs perfectly means that a lot of the plants of today are clones of millennia old specimens, genetically alike, unchanged. Consider the almond, wild almonds are incredibly poisonous to human beings, yet the encouragement of one mutant genetic trait, from one mutant tree, has given food for millions around the world, for thousands of years.
  2. 2. Cloning can be seen as a progression from selective breeding. Genetic engineering gives humans the ability to specifically manipulate and copy genetic material, with pinpoint accuracy. For example, now instead of waiting generations to try and encourage the genetic emphasis on a certain trait, we can identify the gene which causes it, and manipulate the bloodline to produce that trait immediately, even growing the required biological material at an accelerated rate. Cloning is the most essential tool in the genetic engineer’s arsenal. The Human Genome Project is an international research project with the aim of cataloguing and understanding all of the chemical base pairs and 25000 genes, which make up human DNA. It began in 1990, headed by James D. Watson (co discoverer of DNA) and the research is co-ordinated from the USAi. A working draft of the genome was released in 2000 and a complete one in 2003, the project, although officially completed, continues today with further analysis of the wealth of new data uncovered. The massive amounts of possible combinations of genes and gene expression mean that it will be many years yet before we can fully understand and apply what we have discovered from the project. Currently, there are 3 main methods to clone genetic materialii; i. Gene/Molecular cloning: Probably the most important usage of cloning is the isolation, replication and insertion of selected genetic code. Without this technique, most of the work done in genetic engineering would be impossible, since this manipulation of genetic information is the process on which genetic engineering works. It is grossly simplified; isolating, copying, cutting and pasting chosen genes from one genome to another. ii. Somatic cell nuclear transfer/Therapeutic cloning: This technique is currently used for cloning animals, and theoretically could be used to clone humans. It is utilized embryonic stem cell research, and in regenerative medicine where it is often referred to as "therapeutic cloning." It can also be used as the first step in the process of reproductive cloning. The process involves the removal off a nucleus from a somatic cell (a cell other than a gamete). This nucleus is then added to an egg cell, which has had its original nucleus removed. The newly implanted nucleus is then reprogrammed by its new host egg. The egg is stimulated with an electric shock and will begin to divide as it would normally. After mitotic division the zygote has now formed a blastocyst (an early stage embryo with about 100 cells) with almost identical DNA to the original organism. This is not an efficient method of cloning, the procedure has to be performed manually under a microscope, and therefore SCNT is very resource and time intensive. The physical stress placed upon the new hybrid egg cell is enormous, due to the unnatural nature of the procedure; most hybrid egg cells do not survive. It took 277 eggs to create Dolly the sheep, the first animal to be cloned from an adult cell. Scientists do not yet fully understand the biochemistry involved in the reprogramming process. In SCNT, not all of the implanted nucleus’ genetic information is transferred, as not all of it is contained in the nucleus, some is contained in the mitochondria that cannot be removed from the original cell. The resulting hybrid eggs retain those mitochondrial structures which originally belonged to the egg, mutation often occurs in the implanted nucleus as well. As a consequence, animals born from SCNT are not perfect copies of the nucleus’ donor, arguably not true clones.
  3. 3. iii. Cellular cloning: A simple process, relative to other techniques in cloning. In the case of single celled organisms such as bacteria and yeast essentially it simply requires the inoculation of the appropriate medium, because these organisms reproduce asexually anyway. This is the oldest of the cloning techniques, arguably going back as long as humans have been using the fermentation process. From a broad perspective, the potential uses of cloning assisted genetic engineering are limitless. If some time far from now we gain a complete understanding of the genetic code’s structure, and increase our ability to utilize and manipulate it, genetic engineers would wield the power of little Gods. Understanding fully the creation of nucleic acids in carbon, biochemists may be able to synthesize life from any element they chose. Able to create whatever we want, from whatever we want and manipulate the physical aspect of all forms of existing life, humanity would have access to a power which paints a picture of an equally incredible and terrible future. Certainly one that we are not ready to face yet. Why? Cloning removes the element of uncertainty that comes with selective breeding. Genetically identical lab rats would be ideal for scientific testing as they would rule out any uncertainty caused by genetic differences. Genetically ideal cattle specimens could be repeated, ensuring only that the best quality milk or meat would be produced. The cloning process can also produce meat in a more efficient and humane way than ‘traditional’ ways of rearing animals for slaughter. Instead of the animal being killed to provide the food, isolated meat, such as individual chicken breasts; without a consciousness, could be grown on an industrial scale. This would be faster, cheaper and without the controversial techniques (such as inhumane conditions and excessive hormone and drug use) that are common in much of the meat industry today, resulting in paradoxically, better quality and cheaper meat. If the methods by which this could be done where refined enough, the ‘protein shortage’ faced in underprivileged areas of the world, could be resolved. Cloning is also becoming a possible treatment for infertile couples, who wish to conceiveiii. If a parent is incapable of naturally producing a gamete (sperm or egg), a sample of their DNA could be taken and one could be ‘grown’ for them. This method would be superior to other forms of fertility treatment because there would be no reliance on exterior donors, and the child would be genetically the offspring of the parents. Cloning could bring back animals from the brink of extinctioniv, and some believe, could resurrect long extinct animals one day. In January 2001, scientists cloned a gaur, an endangered Asian ox. They implanted the cloned gaur embryo in a surrogate cow, Bessie. The baby gaur, which was named Noah, appeared healthy after its birth, but caught a common infection and died of dysentery within 48 hours. The same group of scientists have made serious considerations about turning their attention to other species, such as the endangered Panda. At the end of 2005 an international team of scientists successfully decoded 1% of a strand of DNA of the woolly mammoth that has been extinct for 10,000 years, using a 27,000-year-old specimen discovered at the end of the 18th century, perfectly preserved in the permafrost of Siberia. A Japanese organization dubbed The Mammoth Creation Project wants to use a surrogate elephant to give birth to the first new mammoth. Although it would be a mammoth elephant hybrid, cloning technology would be used on the preserved carcass to store copies of it’s DNA, for future use.
  4. 4. The Holy Grail of cloning assisted genetic engineering is in the opportunities it presents for medicine. Pharmacogenomics is an emerging field which promises drugs customised to the individual genetic needs of the user. Knowing fully the interaction between the chemicals involved and an individual’s biochemistry would eliminate side effects, increase individual responsiveness to the drug and save time and money that would be spent on drug trials and approval. Gene Therapy would allow people suffering from currently incurable and untreatable genetic conditions to be cured through the treatment or replacement of defective genes. Genetically modified viruses are used as vectors, and infect the patient, adding the necessary genes to facilitate healing.v Growing new genetic material through cloning has been proposed as a cure for aging, as youthful cells could be used to replace aging ones. Replacement cloning is a theoretical possibility, and would entail the replacement of the entire body, and then ‘implanting’ of the previous consciousness via methods such as brain implant. Why not? Cloning is a powerful technology that we cannot fully claim to yet understand, either scientifically, or philosophically. Humanity has a well-established legacy of aggressively pursuing branches of newly developing science without seeing the bigger picture. Take nuclear physics for example, despite the fact that the species is unable to dispose of the incredibly dangerous waste created by the generation of nuclear energy, nuclear power is now in use, or proposed to be used in over 20 countriesvi The main caveats that most people have are on ethical grounds. Due to the relatively undeveloped nature of cloning, creating a human clone with current technology would probably result in any number of defects, with a great potential for a hugely reduced quality of life, and a very early death. Bringing such a life into the world whilst aware of this would be simply unethical and arguably wrong. This has been observed in animals that have been born showing advanced signs of senescence at a young age. Cloning also encourages controversy within the belief systems of many major religions, with more progressive denominations and individuals within one religion disagreeing with the more conservative elements of that faith. Christianity: The Catholic Church has denounced cloning, believing that life begins at conception. The Vatican has publically criticized the British government for legalizing cloning. Other denominations have not taken such a hard line stance, for example the United Church Of Christ, who do not believe that an ovum constitutes life. Islam: Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi, a prominent American theologian and Islamic scholar holds the belief that cloning should not replace the natural method of reproduction because “It may cause danger to the human personality, dignity, family and society”vii. Judaism: Since officially no humans have yet been cloned, the Jewish standpoint according to their well defined laws has not yet been codified. Initially it appears that Jewish law accepts that having children through cloning is perhaps acceptable in a number of circumstances and is morally neutral in a certain other circumstances. Clones are fully human and are to be treated with the full dignity of any human being. viii
  5. 5. Interestingly enough, a religion known as The Raëlian Church views cloning as a basic tenet of it’s religious code. The Church’s spiritual leader, Raël founded Clonaid in 1997, a company that intends to assist homosexual and infertile couples that want a child cloned from a partner's DNA. The company claimed in 2002 that an American woman underwent a standard cloning procedure that led to the birth of her new daughter Eveix, this claim however has not been taken seriously and is not widely believed. Cloning is an asexual reproductive method, and many believe that it implies a dehumanising instrumental approach to humans, removing the natural element of chance that makes all humans unique. Many animal rights activists who believe in the equal rights of animals believe that the instrumental approach, which has been used upon animals in cloning, has already gone too far. In the long run, cloning interferes with evolution, the implications of which we certainly cannot predict. Public opinion on cloning is as varied as the individual members of the public itself. Preliminary polls have found however that most people are not well informed enough on the subject. In America the public “is strongly opposed to reproductive cloning, but resolve softens when it comes to medical applications, with about a third of Americans supporting this research, while a substantial proportion of Americans remain unsure about the matter.” (Nisbet 2004) x In another poll, paid for by ViaGen Inc, a Texas cloning company, people were told that the American Food and Drug Administration was likely to declare cloned food safe, then asked whether they'd buy it. With the question worded that way, 29 percent of respondents said they would; 34 percent said they would consider buying the food after they found out more; and 35 percent, the largest group, said they would "never buy" such food.xi Cloning in the media Whatever media source it appears on, the subject of cloning is generally quite thought provoking and usually mired with controversy. It appears that susceptibility of public opinion to the suggestions of the media combined with a lack of knowledge on the subject means that opinion in future will continue to be shaped by what people read.(Nisbet 2004)xii. Cloning’s compelling subject matter and unusual possibilities lends favorably to the science fiction genre. Cloning appeals as both exciting and philosophically challenging to audiences. Films such as The Sixth Day (2000), in which Arnold Schwarzenegger portrays a cloned man trying to come to terms with who and what he is, was a box office success proving that cloning is a subject that interests people. Cloning has been a successful topic of educational media as well, ABC’s documentary; How To Clone a Human won ‘Best Science Film’ at the 9th International Scoop and Journalism Festival in Geneva. It also won the grand prize at International Scientific Festival in 2001. An example of the volatility associated with cloning in the factual media is Hwang Woo Suk, a disgraced South Korean biomedical scientist. Until his very public fall from grace in November 2005, he was considered a pioneering expert in the field of stem cell research, and known for two articles published in the journal Science in 2004 and 2005 where he reported to have succeeded in creating human embryonic stem cells by cloning. However, both papers were later found to contain a large amount of fabricated data and where retracted. Hwang has now been publically disgraced by the South Korean government and consigned to less prestigious work at a research centre in Yongin, on animal cloning. The future of cloning
  6. 6. At the moment, the continued expansion and utilization of cloning is a given. How far it goes will depend upon how much our ethical and philosophical beliefs change in line with scientific advancement, as time passes. Cloning is not a new scientific practice but due to recent scientific advancements in similar fields, cloning is now becoming more and more widespread and scientifically understood, the biotechnology market is predicted to achieve a ten-fold growth this decade, with a value of $100 billion by 2010xiii. No amount of religious scepticism or moral ambivalence can stop the wheels of commerce turning, especially with that much profit to be made. The continuing emergence of controversial issues such as gene patenting will keep people arguing in the coming years. Perhaps we are simply moving towards and through the early stages of acceptance, after all, all great new ideas have had to be integrated into the human collective consciousness slowly, due to the earthshaking changes they bring to our world. Maybe over time public understanding acceptance of cloning will grow to encompass and allow things that would be considered unethical by today’s standards, these things may even become normal one day... or perhaps the world will destroyed by killer clone armies instead. One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas - Victor Hugo
  7. 7. i http://www.ornl.gov/sci/techresources/Human_Genome/project/progress.shtml [accessed 05/04/08] ii Methods in Molecular Biology, Vol. 192, PCR Cloning Protocols, (2nd edition), B.Y. Chan and H.W. James. Human Press, Totowa, NJ, 2002 iii http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?sec=health&res=9B04E1DE173CF934A35755C0A961958260 [accessed 05/04/08] iv Ehrenfeld, David (2006). "Transgenics and Vertebrate Cloning as Tools for Species Conservation". Conservation Biology 20 (3): 723-732. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00399.x v British Society for Gene Therapy, Human Gene Therapy, ISSN 1043-0342, Mary Ann Liebest Inc., magazine, (2008) vi http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/reactors.htm [accessed 05/04/08] vii http://www.crescentlife.com/wellness/human_cloning_islamic_perspective.htm viii Cloning People and Jewish Law: A Preliminary Analysis - Rabbi Michael J. Broyd http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/cloning.html [accessed 05/04/08] ix http://rael.org/rael_content/index.php [accessed 05/04/08] x Nisbet C., Matthew (2004), Public Opinion Quarterly 2004 68(1):131-154; doi:10.1093/poq/nfh009 , Oxford Journals xi http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/11/15/AR2005111501617.html [accessed 05/04/08] xii Nisbet C., Matthew (2004), Public Opinion Quarterly 2004 68(1):131-154; doi:10.1093/poq/nfh009 , Oxford Journals xiii Hamilton, G (January 2005)The Biotechnology Market Outlook, Growth opportunities and effective strategies for licensing and collaborations (January 2005), Business Insights, ebook, Product Code: RBI051