The idea of cloning has been around since the 1960s when scientists tried to clone frogs and other animals. Now that the technology has improved, there are several companies hoping to bring human cloning to reality, including one company that claims to have successfully cloned a human embryo.
Generally, cloning humans is too difficult and expensive, even if it’s theoretically possible. There are also some ethical concerns about cloning.
Let’s take a look at why humans can’t be cloned and what cloning attempts look like today.
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Why was Dolly cloned?
In 1996, scientists announced they had cloned a lamb. Researchers took DNA from an adult cell and transferred it into an egg that had been emptied of its own genetic material. After being stimulated by electricity, one of these eggs is divided into two cells and then into four, then eight, and so on. They were all exact copies of each other—and in each case, they contained genetic information that was identical to that in a single cell taken from a six-year-old ewe named Dolly.
Thus, Dolly had been replicated from just one specialized cell—in short, she was an identical twin born 15 years earlier than her sister. Scientists call such a cell a somatic cell because it is found in body tissue. Somatic cells can be used to create clones because they are diploid: Each has paired sets of chromosomes containing all or most of our genes. Eggs and sperm are also diploid; their nuclei contain only half as many chromosomes as somatic cells do (because each parent contributes only half of his or her genes).
Therefore, when an egg is activated by electrical stimulation and begins dividing, it produces daughter cells with only half as many chromosomes as itself. These cells are called germline cells because they will eventually become eggs or sperm and pass on their genes to future generations; thus, germline cells carry all our genes (unlike somatic ones).
Why can’t we clone humans yet?
In 2010, a team of researchers led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov announced that they had created embryonic stem cells using a new cloning technique that produced healthy and normal mouse clones. And in 2012, a team of Chinese scientists reported that they had created mice using somatic cell nuclear transfer. Both methods produced cloned embryos, but one of these teams successfully used their techniques to produce live mice from donor cells.
Somatic cell nuclear transfer is easier because it doesn’t require eggs or embryos, which is why its cloning success rate is higher than its predecessor (blastocyst complementation). It also has fewer ethical concerns surrounding it.
Many people are still not okay with cloning humans because no one is sure of the effects growing up as a clone will have on someone’s personality or health.
Some people think that reproductive cloning is wrong because it separates an individual from his or her genetic origins. For example, if you were born via reproductive cloning, you wouldn’t be able to trace your family history back through your parents’ lineage; instead, you’d only be able to see how far back your donor went. Others think that reproductive cloning would create an overpopulation problem for our planet—but then again so does natural human reproduction! Still, others believe that we shouldn’t pursue human reproductive cloning because there are already so many children waiting for adoption in our world today.
We can clone animals. Why not humans?
As technology progresses, humans have gotten better at creating offspring through scientific means. However, we haven’t quite gotten to human cloning just yet, as there are many ethical issues surrounding it. While most people would consider it unethical to clone a human being (especially if they can consent), some experts think that science is still far away from being able to create a cloned person.
We’re not close at all, says Robert Lanza, chief scientific officer at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., who has worked on cloning animals such as endangered species. We’re nowhere near ready for that, he says. The idea of putting an embryo into a woman and bringing it to term is very far off. In fact, he adds, scientists aren’t even sure how to prevent immune rejection of any future cloned human babies because their DNA will be so different from other humans’.
But what about Dolly? She was born in 1996 and lived until 2003. So why couldn’t scientists do it again? That’s exactly what they did with Polly—she was born three years after Dolly and died earlier this year. It’s possible that cloning could be used one day to help preserve endangered species or even extinct ones like dinosaurs—but don’t expect human clones anytime soon.
What is the future of cloning?
Human cloning has been a hotly debated topic since scientists first successfully cloned a sheep in 1996. While there are some who oppose any kind of human cloning, even for medical purposes, there are others who believe that cloning is just an inevitable part of science and will play an important role in furthering our understanding of human biology and disease.
Some see it as leading to designer babies—but others believe we’ll never get to that point because most people would be too squeamish about playing God. But regardless of your personal views on human cloning, one thing is certain: Our world would never be the same if humans could be cloned. Would you want to live in a world where clones were commonplace? Would they have rights or be treated differently than natural-born humans? Should they have rights at all? What might life look like 100 years from now if human cloning became commonplace? These are questions that need answers.
How will cloning be done in the future?
Scientists today use cloning to create copies of animals that have valuable traits or come from a rare lineage. Scientists can also clone cells, like those found in a cancerous tumor, and grow them into new organs to repair damaged tissues. To be fair, some researchers think they will one day be able to clone human beings; others disagree. But that doesn’t mean scientists aren’t trying hard: If we do live long enough, we could see human clones within our lifetime! Here’s what’s going on in the field right now.
Today, scientists are working toward two major goals when it comes to human cloning. First, they want to learn more about genetics and disease by creating cloned embryos for research purposes. Second, there’s an ongoing debate over whether scientists should ever try to make full-grown adult humans by duplicating them—and if so, whether these clones would count as people with rights.
In fact, British Parliament member Lord David Alton put it best when he said If mankind goes down that route it is taking evolution not into its hands but into its feet. There are just too many unknowns at play right now for most ethicists—and for most people—to get behind full-grown adult human cloning just yet.
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