In today’ world of advanced technology and even faster progress of this technology one has to stop and examine what we have accomplished. How far do we want to go with this technology of genetic engineering, particularly in the field of cloning. Examining genetic engineering and its many possibilities holds great hope for the future. Centrally the issue of cloning has been a hot topic in the media mainly because its has become a technological as well as a medical breakthrough. The possibilities of cloning are innumerable that is, if it works. But the other side of the coin are the ethics of the process. What happens when we master cloning of body parts and venture out to clone humans? Will this clone be someone who has feelings, and mind and a spirit of its own? Will it have a soul?
Genetic Engineering, the alteration of an organism’s genetic, or hereditary, material to eliminate undesirable characteristics or to produce desirable new ones(Brennan, 57) . Genetic engineering is used to increase plant and animal food production; to diagnose disease, improve medical treatment, and produce vaccines and other useful drugs.(Brennan, 58). Included in genetic engineering techniques are the selective breeding of plants and animals, and recombinant DNA.
The first genetic engineering technique, still used today, was the selective breeding of plants and animals, usually for increased food production. In selective breeding, only those plants or animals with good characteristics are chosen for further breeding. Corn has been selectively bred for increased kernel size and number and for nutritional content. More recently, selective breeding of wheat and rice in an effort called the green revolution has helped supply the world’s ever-increasing need for food(Clarke, 1211). This is also another aspect of technology that has improved over the years. Production has proved that we can grow more with less land mass. Cattle and pigs were first domesticated about 8000 years ago and through selective breeding have become main sources of meat for humans. Dogs and horses have also been selectively bred for thousands of years for recreational purposes.
Over the past 20 years, genetic engineering has been revolutionized by a new technique known as recombinant DNA, or gene splicing, with which scientists can directly alter genetic material (Encarta, 03). Genes consist of the chemical deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). In recombinant DNA, the DNA of one organism is joined to the DNA of a second organism to produce a recombinant DNA. When this recombinant DNA is spliced with another organism, it permanently changes the genetic makeup of that organism.
Recombinant DNA techniques have transformed genetic engineering in plant and animal food production and medicine. In most cases, DNA cannot be transferred directly from its original organism, known as the donor, to the recipient organism, known as the host (Brennan ??). Instead, the donor DNA must be cut and recombined with a matching fragment of DNA from an organism that can carry the donor DNA into the host.
In 1982 the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for the first time the medical use of a recombinant DNA protein, the hormone insulin, which had been cloned in large quantities(Encarta, 05). Previously, this hormone, used by diabetics had been available only in limited quantities from hogs. Since that time, the FDA has approved other genetically engineered proteins for use in humans.
Scientists also have employed recombinant DNA techniques to produce medically useful human proteins in animal milk(Clarke, 1211). In this procedure, the human gene responsible for the desired protein is first linked to specific genes of the animal that are active only in its milk-producing glands(Clarke, 1211). The egg of the animal is then injected with the linked genes. The resulting babies will have these linked genes in every cell of their body but will produce the human protein only in their milk. The human protein is finally extracted from the animal’s milk for use as medicine. In this way, sheep’s milk is used to produce an enzyme used in the treatment of emphysema; cow’s milk is used to produce a protein that combats bacterial infections; and goat’s milk is used as yet another way to produce blood-clot-dissolving enzyme also cloned in hamster cell cultures(Encarta, 04).
Now that genetic engineering has been fully reviewed, the issue of cloning will be introduced and examined. The definition of a clone, an organism, or group of organisms, derived from another organism by an asexual reproductive process(Church of Scotland, 02). Usually the members of a clone are identical in their inherited characteristics—that is, in their genes —except for any differences caused by mutation(Encarta, 06). Identical twins, for example, who originate from the division of a single fertilized egg, are members of a clone; whereas non-identical twins, derived from two separate fertilized eggs, are not clones.
Through the recent advances in genetic engineering, scientists can isolate the individual gene (or group of genes) from one organism and grow it in another organism belonging to a different species(Clarke, 1211). Thus it is able to produce a clone of organisms, or cells, that all contain the same foreign gene or genes. This technique is called cloning because it uses clones of organisms or cells. For obvious reasons it has great economic and medical potential and is the subject of immense research.
Identical-twin animals (or humans) may be produced by cloning as well. An embryo in the early stage of development is removed from the uterus and split, then each separate part is placed in a surrogate uterus. Mammals such as mice and sheep have been produced by this method, which is generally called embryo splitting.
Another development has been the discovery that a whole nucleus, containing an entire set of chromosomes, can be taken from a cell and injected into a fertilized egg whose own nucleus has been removed(Encarta, 06). This cloning technique is in theory capable of producing large numbers of genetically identical individuals. Experiments using this technique have been successfully accomplished with frogs and mice.
Progress in cloning higher mammals beyond an early embryonic stage presents a much more formidable challenge. Genes in cells at the earliest stages of embryonic life carry the encoded knowledge that enables cells to develop into any part of the body (Bereano, 754). But skeptics theorized that once cells form into specific body insides, they thereafter lose the capability to reconstruct the entire organism from the genetic contents of the nucleus.
However, in July 1996, a team of Scottish scientists produced the first live birth of a healthy sheep cloned from an adult mammal. The team scraped skin cells from the udder of a donor sheep (sheep A) and these cells were temporarily “starved” of nutrients to stop cell development. An unfertilized egg was removed from a second sheep (sheep B) and its nucleus was removed to eliminate genetic characteristics of the donor egg. A skin cell from sheep A (containing a nucleus with genetic material) was fused with the unfertilized egg from sheep B. The egg, now with a full complement of genes, began dividing and was placed into the uterus of a surrogate mother (sheep C). The embryo developed normally and was delivered safely. Named Dolly, this healthy sheep was introduced to the world with much fanfare in February 1997 (Encarta, 06).
While Dolly has most of the genetic characteristics of sheep A, she is not a true clone. Not all of an animal’s genes are found in the cell’s nucleus. There are a few dozen genes that reside in the mitochondria outside the nucleus in the cell’s cytoplasm. In Dolly’s case, some of these genes were supplied by the donor egg of sheep B (Encarta, 06).
Public reaction to the use of recombinant DNA in genetic engineering has been mixed. The production of medicines through the use of genetically altered organisms has generally been welcomed. However, critics of recombinant DNA fear that the pathogenic, or disease-producing, organisms used in some recombinant DNA experiments might develop extremely infectious forms that could cause worldwide epidemics (Harris, 754).
Questions have been raised concerning the morality of producing transgenic organisms. In addition, some critics object to the patenting of genetically altered organisms because it makes the organisms the property of particular companies(Zou, 03).
“I believe that banning cloning would (1) stop important research
that could be vital in many future medical fields. (2) stop advances in current technologies such as infertility. And last of all (3) stop something that has the potential to relieve human suffering”( Zou, 01).Here Zou presents his ideas on why human cloning should not be banned. His ideas are widely expressed as the popular choice for human cloning. These reasons may seem as all the reasons we need to proceed with cloning but what is the other side of the coin?
…”coverage has put too much emphasis on the needs of research scientists, while underplaying the integrity and dignity of research subjects” (Bereano, 754). The dignity of the research subject is an important aspect of cloning. What happens if there was an exact copy of one person in two different places in the world? One physicist points out the fact that if a clone had the exact genetic makeup as well as the same memories and brain waves, the clone as well as the original would be convinced that each of them were the original. How would the research subject feel about having a clone in the same world?
“On principle, to replicate any human technologically is against the basic dignity of the uniqueness of each human being in God’s sight. Christians would see this as a violation of the uniqueness of a human life, which God has given to each of us and to no one else. Even identical twins are unique as individuals” (Church of Scotland, 01). Here is an argument against the cloning of humans presented by the director of this church. This argument is considered the direct opposite or the ‘other side of the coin’. Human dignity is a massive part of the human race and I think that is why the issue of cloning is going to be another one the unanswerable topics, like abortion.
Observing some personal views on cloning from individuals with experience, ideas about this matter could be slightly altered. In the case of Simon Kenwright, a father who had lost his teenage son, never paid much attention to medical issues until a breakthrough in technology could be a savior. Cryopreservation was an option that Simon thought might be plausible because he had heard about cloning. Possibly raising his son again in the future when this procedure was perfected was a temptation he had to resist. “The option seemed morally wrong, and seemed to detract from the meaning of life and death” (Kenwright, 1401).
Another case concerning the issue of cloning is the case of the Ayala sister’s. In 1990, a child was conceived for the purpose of being a donor for a bone marrow transplant for the older sister who was diagnosed with leukemia. Was this an ethical or medical decision? Henning Allmers of Germany proclaims, “Experience in every field of science teaches us that procedures that are technically possible will be performed”(Allmers, 1401). Henning also brings up the issue of the black market. That cloning should be ‘busted open’ so the black market wont have a chance to make anything of this.
In conclusion, genetic engineering has come under such scrutiny only to provide various options medically as well as technologically. The process of selective breeding seemed harmless as well as advancing in the field of agriculture and animal breeding. This might be considered the opening doorway to recombinant DNA. Selective breeding was basically taking the best of what was there and breeding it with another organism of the same kind. In recombinant DNA, there is actual gene splicing to produce another organism. Many new advances have been made with this new method of genetic engineering. And then there is cloning, which is taking an organism and making an exact copy of it.
I would like to take this opportunity to share my ideas and thoughts about the matter of genetic engineering and more specifically cloning. Genetic engineering has provided many new advances in medicine which may have helped save lives. I feel that we did have to take a few risks to find out what new helpful medicines we could gain. I have no objections to genetic engineering in general, until it comes to cloning. The actual thought of cloning a human scares me and I am sure to many others. Cloning body parts could be very beneficial to the world and we would enter a new era of medicine. But venturing out and cloning an actual human will attain a lot of unwanted reactions. Its a subject that I think will never truly be solved like abortion or euthanasia. The creation of Dolly represents a unique advance for cloning technology, but it intensified the debate about subjecting humans to cloning. Rather than a prelude to human cloning, however, many scientists say the achievement of cloning is the forerunner of a revolution in animal breeding. Cloning animals, to me, is not that big of a deal. But cloning humans is a completely new ball game. The biggest question in my mind about a human clone is whether this clone would have a soul. Or would it be someone that looks, talks and acts like you or me, but would be missing that special something in his/her eye.
1. Brennan, Richard P., Levitating Trains and Kamikaze Genes. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994.
2. Clarke, Bryan C., “Quanta: cloning and its ethics”. The Science’s. Volume 37, issue 3 (June 1997): Pg. 1211.
3. John Harris & Philip Bereano. “Is cloning an attack on human dignity?” Nature. Volume 387 , issue 6635 (June 19, 1997):Pg. 754.
4. Henning Allmers & Simon Kenwright. “Ethics of Cloning”. The Lancet. Volume 349, issue 9062 (May 10, 1997): Pg. 1401.
5. Church of Scotland. “Should we clone humans?” Main web page. Date ? Online article. Http://webzone.ccacyber.com/www/srtpoject/clonhuml.htm
6. Zou, Ben. “Should Cloning be banned?” Main web page. Date ? Online article.
7. Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia