Science, technology when applied to the natural way how a human’s body and all of its corresponding organ systems operate can be referred to as biotechnology. Biotechnology has emerged as one of the most lucrative and fast developing field of medicine combined with technology. It can be defined as the utilization of organisms (e. g. humans, animals, plants, etc.) or any living system to create, develop, or improve products that can be used to make a particular task easier, or more efficient . In an era characterized by rapid and even unpredictable improvements in technology, one can assume that the same rate of introduction of new products and innovations can also be applied to the field of biotechnology. The objective of this paper is to discuss a recent innovation related to the field of biology, focusing on the biological, ethical, and other future implications of cloning.
Cloning is one of the most interesting finds in the 21st century particularly in the field of genetics. Cloning is operationally defined in this paper as the process of creating a genetically identical individual from another individual belonging to the same population which can either be a plant, bacteria, insect, or a human, through asexual means .
The easiest way to understand how a cloning process takes place is by comparing it to the process of photocopying a paper. An original paper can be reproduced for virtually an unlimited number of times through the use of a photocopying machine. With today’s technology, the output, a photocopied paper, would normally appear 75 to 95 percent similar to the original copy of the paper. The same principle applies to cloning. An organism, which in this case is a human, can be reproduced for virtually an unlimited number of times through cloning. However, the only difference is that cloning technology is relatively new and is actually at its early stages so the output which would be a complete and living human being would not really be a perfect copy of the reference organism. Through time, continuous research and development efforts, scientists believe that they would be able to increase the success and efficiency rates of cloning.
It is believed that the first real moves towards cloning started when a decorated German embryologist under the name Hans Spemann and his protégé Hilde Mangold successfully performed one of the first, if not the first, somatic cell nuclear transfer using embryos of an amphibian specie . More and more researches about somatic cell nuclear transfer followed after that as the academic and research community discovered the possibly promising future of cloning.
On a molecular level, cloning happens when copies of DNA strands (commonly found on the nucleus of the cell from a donor organism) from a reference organism becomes embedded to the cytoplasm of an egg whose nucleus has been removed. This process is more commonly known as the somatic cell nuclear transfer or SCNT—the one which Hans Spemann and his student performed although in a more traditional way. So practically, cloning occurs by removing the nucleus of an egg cell, leaving the cytoplasm and possibly other cell organelles behind, and replacing it with the nucleus directly lifted from the parent or donor cell. The resulting cell would then divide normally as if it has been created through the normal process of fertilization. The cell and the resulting cells from the mitotic reactions would continuously divide until organs, organ systems, and finally a living organism which should appear identical to the parent organism is formed. But then again, it cannot be automatically assumed that the resulting organism is an exact copy of the parent organism since the somatic cell may still carry some traits from the mother’s cytoplasm, plus other form of undiscovered mutations may have also existed in the nuclear DNA as the cell underwent the process of mitosis or cell division .
There are a lot of reasons why scientists and genetic experts of the early 21st century decided to invest time and resources in improving the efficiency and success rate of every cloning procedure, which unfortunately is currently at very impractically low rates, even when the latest technological advancements and the successful mapping of the human genome have already been considered. One of the many possible advantages of cloning is that it somehow serves as a hope that someday humans would be able to treat diseases, especially the ones that are highly associated with gene malfunctions, through gene therapy. An individual with a defective set of genes—one which he probably inherited from his parents or ancestors, can theoretically be cured or prevented from incurring the same disease that infected his ancestors by replacing the defective gene with a healthy one—something which can only be done through gene therapy. Cloning also serves as a hope that someday, humans would develop an organ regeneration capability by creating an entire organ by cloning the one currently placed inside their body. This would eliminate the need to look for organ donors and also the need to possibly suffer the consequences of organ transplantation complications such as when the recipient’s body rejects the donated organ because of issues of compatibility. The self-regenerated or cloned organ would most likely be more compatible than the donated one because it directly came from the recipient’s cells and it also contains his DNAs.
Drawbacks, Ethical and other Future Implications
Some suggest that cloning is an unethical process mainly because they see it as overriding the Divine will. Some simply suggest that humans should keep the natural process of reproduction out of their hands and let natural selection decide on who are going to exist where, and how. Cloning also raises the issue of men’s reproductive obsoleteness because in a normal cloning procedure, all that is needed are the nucleus from any parent cell and a cytoplasm from an egg cell.
There are also a couple of scientific drawbacks that can be associated with cloning. Firstly, if at least fifty percent of the world’s population were produced via the process of cloning, then it can be assumed that that fifty percent features the same or an almost the same genetic structure. By that virtue, a single disease caused by a virus that could take full advantage of the possible weaknesses in that genetic structure can practically wipe out half of the world’s population. The point here is that without cloning, untouched humans and other species can enjoy the advantages of a complex genetic architecture. A single disease may be able to cause trouble in a population with an almost similar genetic architecture but not to the extent that an entire population would be wiped out. Also, with the current progress done in the field of cloning, many errors still occur. The best evidence that can be used to support this would be the number of attempts before the science team responsible for successfully cloning Dolly the sheep succeeded which was 277. Even with the impractical number of attempts, the resulting organism, Dolly, still suffered from many physical abnormalities although he did appear identical to the reference or parent organism. In fact, Dolly died at a relatively young age after developing complications such as rheumatoid arthritis and other physical deformities.
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