Certain issues in our society raise numerous emotional and ethical concerns as cloning and stem cells. Having said that, the inquisitive nature and curiosity of man coupled with intellect and an urge to discover brings about break-through advancements in the world of science. These advancements are enough to leave man himself surprised.
Among the many developments that man has been making, a recent addition to it is Cloning. While trying to accomplish the impossible, to add on to his never-ending quest, he has reached a point where has begun to duplicate himself. Special interest groups, scientists, journalists are constantly researching this issue and trying to get as much information possible. Cloning began as an experiment on mice, frogs and then sheep but now it has ended up in experimenting MAN himself.
What is Cloning?
Cloning is the process of generating a genetically identical copy of a cell or an organism. It is the production of living structures genetically identical to their parent structure. In cloning, genetic variations are absent. The basis of this process involves taking genetic information from one living thing and creating identical copies of it. The copied material of this process is called a clone. This technology naturally occurs in asexual reproducing microbes and vegetatively multiplying plants. Lower animals that asexually reproduce like the Amoeba proteus also produce clones.
The fact that cloning as a concept may seem futuristic, nature has been doing it for million years. For example, identical twins have almost identical DNA, and asexual reproduction in some plants and organisms can produce genetically identical offspring. And scientists make genetic doubles in the lab, though the process is a little different but also similar at the same time. Nature undertakes cloning in a form when a cell replicates itself asexually without any genetic alteration or recombination. With the help of binary fission or budding, organisms that lack a cell nucleus, for example, bacteria, create duplicated of themselves that are genetically identical. On the other hand, organisms that have a cell nucleus, also known as eukaryotic organisms, for example, humans, all the cells undergo mitosis.
This includes, skin cells and cells lining the gastrointestinal tract, are clones; the only exceptions are eggs and sperm, which undergo meiosis and genetic recombination. Since the concept of cloning has been introduced, geneticists have cloned cells, tissues, genes and entire animals.
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Early Cloning Experiments
The experiments of cloning began in the 1980s on mammals such as sheep. These creatures were cloned from early and partially differentiated embryonic cells. In 1996 British developmental a famous biologist generated a cloned sheep, named ‘Dolly’. She managed to conduct this by means of nuclear transfer involving an enucleated embryo and a differentiated cell nucleus. This technique, which was later refined and became known as somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).
Cloning was represented as an extraordinary advance in the science of cloning because it resulted in the creation of a genetically identical clone of an already grown sheep. This also showed that it was a possibility for a DNA to revert to an undifferentiated embryonic stage in differentiated somatic cells. Hence, by reestablishing pluripotency, an embryonic cell has the potential to grow into different types of mature body cells in order to make one complete organism.
Soon after the generation of Dolly the sheep, a number of other animals were cloned by SCNT, including pigs, goats, rats, mice, dogs, horses, and mules.
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Types of Cloning
According to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), there are three major types of cloning:
1. Gene Cloning
Gene cloning is the formation of more than one copy of the same gene. In this process, a genetic engineer extracts DNA from an organism and then uses enzymes to break the bonds between nucleotides and snip the strand into gene-sized pieces. The separated DNA is then subjected to endonucleases. DNA fragments are also passed through electrophoresis. Plasmids, which are small bits of DNA in bacterial cells, are combined with the genes. Later, they are transferred into living bacteria. These bacteria are allowed to grow into colonies to be studied. Gene modification takes place when a genetic engineer cuts the gene apart and replaces regions of it with new material. Transformation is the step in which the new genetic material is transferred to a new organism, which changes it genetically.
2. Reproductive Cloning
In reproductive cloning, a mature somatic cell is removed from an organism and is transferred the DNA into an egg cell that has had its own DNA removed. Then, the egg is jump-started chemically to start the reproductive process. Finally, the egg is implanted into the uterus of a female of the same species as the egg. In the type of cloning the gives birth to an animal that has the same genetic makeup as the animals that donated the somatic cell. Reproductive cloning involves the implantation of a cloned embryo into a real or an artificial uterus. This type of cloning was performed for more the 40 years through the process of embryo splitting. Dolly the sheep was a result of reproductive cloning.
3. Therapeutic Cloning
Therapeutic cloning is intended to use cloned embryos for the purpose of extracting stem cells from them, without ever implanting the embryos in a womb. It enables the cultivation of stem cells that are genetically identical to a patient. This type of cloning works in a similar way as reproductive cloning works. In therapeutic cloning cells are stimulated to differentiate into any of the more than 200 cell types in the human body. The differentiated cells are then transplanted into the patient to replace diseased or damaged cells without the risk of rejection by the immune system. These cells can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, diabetes mellitus, stroke, and spinal cord injury.
Along with advances in genetics, cloning also occurs artificially by using certain cloning techniques. These techniques are laboratory processes which are used to produce offspring that are genetically identical to the donor parent. The types include:
1. Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer
Somatic cell nuclear transfer intends the transfer of the nucleus from a somatic cell to an egg cell. It can be any cell of the body other than a germ cell. A somatic cell can be anything including a blood cell, heart cell, skin cell, etc. In the process of somatic cell nuclear transfer, an unfertilized egg that has had its nucleus removed is inserted with a nucleus that is removed from a somatic cell. The egg with its donated nucleus is then nurtured and divides until it becomes an embryo. The embryo is then placed inside a surrogate mother and develops inside the surrogate.
2. The Roslin Technique
The Roslin Technique is a variation of somatic cell nuclear transfer. In this process, somatic cells are allowed to grow and divide and are then deprived of nutrients to induce the cells into a suspended or dormant stage. An egg cell that has had its nucleus removed is then placed in close proximity to a somatic cell and both cells are shocked with an electrical pulse. The cells fuse and the egg is allowed to develop into an embryo. The embryo is then implanted into a surrogate.
3. The Honolulu Technique
In this method, the nucleus from a somatic cell is removed and injected into an egg that has had its nucleus removed. The egg is then bathed in a chemical solution and cultured overtime. The developing embryo is later implanted into a surrogate and allowed to develop on its own forming a new being.
4. Artificial Twinning
Artificial twinning involves fertilization of a female egg and separation of resulting embryonic cells in the early stages of development. Each separated cell continues to grow and can be implanted into a surrogate. These developing embryos mature, thus eventually forming separate individuals. All of these individuals are genetically identical, as they were originally separated from a single embryo. This process is similar to what happens in the development of natural human identical twins.
Current Application of Cloning
Today, cloning is being majorly used in the animal and plant industries. A popular South Korean company, Sooam Biotech, clones pets for around $100,000. Another Texas-based company called Vaigen Pets clones dogs and cats for $50,000 and $25,000 respectively.
The idea of animal cloning first came from the popular Jurassic Park movie, where the entire premise revolved around dinosaurs being cloned. That movie raised many questions, one of which was “can cloning really be used to bring extinct species back?” However, this seemed far from impossible back then as scientists would require DNA of the extinct species and a living animal’s egg that is closely related to the extinct species. However, in 2003, a group of scientists working at the Center of Food Technology and Research of Argon were successfully able to bring back an extinct wild goat called a Pyrenean Ibex, also commonly known as Bucardo. Albeit, the animal only survived for 10 minutes, according to National Geographic, but the scientists proved that through cloning, extinct animals can be brought back. More recently, scientists at Havard are working on cloning woolly mammoths and have declared that they will soon be successful.
Besides animals, cloning is also used for plants. A very popular example is a company cloning maple trees in order to provide lumber for guitar-makers. However, the duplicate wood has a unique quality called figuring, which gives the guitar a shimmering appearance.
When it comes to human cloning, it is currently illegal in most parts of the world due to the risks and uncertainty involved. However, medical researchers have proven that cloning stem cells can be extremely beneficial in curing the human body, right from cancer to burns. Another area of research is the cloning of hair follicles, which began more than a decade ago. It’s just one potential application of human-cell cloning: treating hair loss.
How is Cloning the Future of Biotechnology
How cloning will affect the world in the coming years, as many researchers and biologists to predict it. In addition, there are also many speculations with respect to these advancements in the minds of the opponents of the research and execution of cloning. The current goals for cloning are a means to develop both patient and disease-specific therapies for certain conditions. The procedure could also potentially use a patient’s own cells for tissue replacement.
If there comes a time when human cloning turns into reality, human beings will be able to produce themselves in pretty much the same way as many superficial creatures. Equipped with the techniques of cloning, human beings would be able to produce hordes of army men, labor and workforce. When thinking of gene cloning becoming a real-life scenario, the effects of it are going to be as crazy as it can be imaged. We might have the guard dogs with wings too by cloning the genes of birds and dogs if cloning is taken into serious consideration. Nothing is impossible and the probability of these strange and queer happenings in the animal kingdom no more seems a far-fetched idea. Especially given the present equally wried happenings in the plant world today. Although science is exciting, it will likely take many decades of research before scientists are able to create transplantable tissue.
Wise legislation will enable humankind to realize the benefits of gene transfer technologies like cloning without risking the horrors that could arise from the misuse of these technologies. The only hope is that such wise legislation will be enacted to have a positive effect on the field of science. In our view, the controversy surrounding human cloning must not lead to prohibitions as the advantages of cloning are numerous and it is a concept that will entirely change the way human species exist.
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