Three years ago a sheep named Dolly became the biggest news since the first successful open-heart surgery. Dolly, unlike every other mammal on earth is an identical copy of its mother. Dolly has no father. The “miracle” of cloning was preformed by Dr. Ian Willmut and his team at Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland. The new research has opened a large amount of possibilities for the future use of the technique as well as many ethical issues regarding human cloning.
The Roslin Institute team created Dolly by transferring the nuclei of adult sheep cells in to the egg of another female sheep. The egg had its natural nucleus removed by microsurgery. Ones the new nucleus was implanted in to the egg cell it now had a complete set of genes identical to the sheep who donated the nucleus. The transplanted egg cells were then cultured for a short period of time and implanted into a female sheep to carry the pregnancy to term. The nuclei of many different adult cells were used in the experiment including mammary gland cells, which were the ones to produce the successful result. The sheep born as a result of the experiment was an exact genetic duplicate, clone, of the sheep donating the adult nucleus. Though other mammals have been cloned before, they were always created form embryonic cells, never a cell of a fully-grown animal. This research also proved that adult animal cells do contain a workable copy of all the genetic material needed to create a whole new animal.
Willmut’s technique is very difficult and requires a lot of work. Because of this, it is not practical way of creating animals. The company who funded the research plans on using cloning in order to create animals that will produce important drugs in their milk, but at this moment it is not the best way to do it. On the other hand, the difficult method will probably be improved and simplified in the future becoming an important tool in biomedical research.
Unfortunately, this new discovery opens the door to the ethics of human cloning. Most scientists agree that human cloning is wrong and should be banned. It is now illegal in many nations including England but remains technically legal in the United States. The US government refuses to fund any human cloning research and has asked that all private companies do the same. There are many ethical issues involved in the debate about human cloning including the fear that people will create clones in order to use them as organ transplants. The line between cloning for research purposes and for selfish reasons is very thin and many ethics committees have been created to discuss and determine the limits to which this technique should be allowed to go.
Though the Wilmut technique is very complicated and requires a lot of work, the equipment needed can be found in any advanced biological research lab and it will be very difficult to prevent doctors from offering cloning as an option to patients who need help, such as the parents of a dying child. Other labs have now confided their progress toward recreating Wilmut’s results and cloning may, one day, become as commonplace as in vitro fertilization.