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    Cloning is awesome....right?
    By Mrs. H. | February 3rd 2009 09:20 PM | 5 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Mrs.

    I have been a high school science teacher for 8 years. Before that I worked in an agricultural research lab while I did graduate work in Cell Biology...

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    I feel like I found this article with near-perfect timing, considering that I am starting a unit on genetics in my Biology classes.  To recap: sadly, after scientists seemed to have successfully created a hybrid clone of an extinct goat (they had preserved cells from the last surviving animal who died 9 years ago), the only kid that survived to birth died shortly thereafter.

    I think that one of the valuable lessons here is found in the numbers:

    439 embryos were created. 
    57 were implanted into surrogate mothers. 
    1 survived to term. 
    0 newborn clones lived longer than 10 minutes.


    Students often ask me, "What's the big deal about cloning?  We've cloned so many animals, why is it so controversial?"  Usually they are asking in reference to human cloning, of course.  When I point out numbers like those above....it makes them stop and think. 

    Yes, cloning is great technology.  Yes, scientists have made many advances, especially in recent years.  And yes- for every successful clone, there are many, many clones that didn't make it.  There is still so much that we don't know.

    Comments

    Becky Jungbauer
    Yikes. Those numbers are pretty staggering. FDA is breaking new ground by considering approval of genetically modifying goats that produce drugs in their milk (quick synopsis here) - the soft deadline for approving the drug, and consequently the goats that produce it, is coming up this weekend - and the idea is running into the same kinds of arguments as those against cloned animals. I wonder what the numbers are for comparison's sake with GM animals?
    Gerhard Adam
    These issues of cloning and genetically modified animals raise some serious concerns to me because I don't see these issues being thought through.  There is far too much of a market motive that is precluding more prudence.

    In cloning, there's no real problem as Mike mentioned with therapeutic cloning, since we're dealing with an isolated result rather than a mainstream one (at this point).  However when it comes to animals, the concept of cloning makes no sense.  It's not like animal reproduction is a problem, so the only purpose in cloning would be to preserve some particular genetic combination.   The argument about restoring extinct species is a foolish one, since there is no mechanism by which an ecosystem can be restored once it has been modified.  Everything depends on initial conditions and there is simply no "going back".  It also presupposes that we are better prepared in establishing the criteria for "natural selection" than nature.  After all, what makes any given extinct species special beyond our own sense of guilt perhaps?  In addition without taking serious steps to protect habitat, the idea of restoring an extinct species is simply marketing.

    I haven't heard any discussions about what the exposure is for genetically identical animals with respect to disease or other risks that would be diluted with a more genetically diverse herd.   I am also concerned that the whole issue of cloning is really oriented towards the genetically modified animals to increase production capabilities.

    The difficulty with genetically modified animals is that they are products which are patentable and also competitors in a biosphere that already contains such animals.  While I can appreciate the value this would have to a factory farm, it should not encroach on my ability (or right) to raise my own animals if I choose.  It should raise serious concerns that a cow, pig, chicken, etc may one day be a patentable product that requires licensing before it can be raised.  This is also a completely unnecessary encroachment, since there is no shortage of food that is being addressed.  This is purely market-driven which should give everyone sufficient reason for concern.

    I'm also concerned that we have absolutely no concept of how to control genetically modified animals from cross-breeding and generating completely unpredictable results in offspring (which could also impact the natural biosphere).   For example, what considerations have been given to the problem of zoonosis when we may suddenly find millions of potential disease susceptible vectors that have been specifically engineeered for human use (i.e. drugs, etc.).  The point is that we simply can't know what the possible ramifications are, nor can we lay claim to any degree of control (let alone understanding).

    I'm just uncomfortable that, in our ignornance, we are rushing headlong into problems we may not be able to solve.

    Mundus vult decipi
    adaptivecomplexity
    Those kinds of numbers dramatically illustrate one of the major ethical problems with so-called 'reproductive cloning.' Reproductive cloning of humans should be banned, but cloning to create stem cells ('therapeutic cloning'), which involves creating in vitro embryos that are never implanted in a womb, is a different ball game.

    I think we can all agree that reproductive cloning of humans is wrong. Therapeutic cloning presents different ethical issues, and the disagreements over those issues often fall sharply along religious lines.
    Mike
    Becky Jungbauer

    It bothers me that disagreements fall along religious lines, as you say, because it is a scientific issue (and an ethical issue), not religious. Interesting how some of the flashpoints in our society - evolution, cloning - have scientific underpinnings but are attacked on religious values. 

    adaptivecomplexity
    I can see how the ethical issues for therapeutic cloning fall along religious lines; they are the same lines we see in the abortion debate, and they're based on peoples bedrock (if poorly articulated) values. If you think a 100-cell embryo in a petri dish is fully human, deserving of all the protection a human child would get, then you're going to think that therapeutic cloning involves murder, no matter what the science is. I think that view is insane, but as I'm sure you know, it's  strongly held by some powerful constituencies in the  US.

    Personally, I think that kind of extreme view is a minority view in the US - most people will weigh the benefits of stem cell research&potential treatments against the life of a 100-cell embryo differently. But the public is confused - cloning is cloning is cloning, and many people who don't follow the issue don't know the difference between reproductive cloning and therapeutic cloning. So people who might not hold the extreme view about 100-cell in vitro embryos condemn cloning because they think it means reproductive cloning.
    Mike