Cloning, or human somatic nuclear transfer, is the process that allows an organism to give birth to an organism with the same genetic makeup as the organism that donated the DNA. Cloning is not as hard to do as you might think. If you cut off a leaf of a plant and grow a new one from it, you've cloned the plant. The new plant has the same genetic structure as the plant you took the leaf from. Some animals clone when they reproduce normally. But humans and mammals do not naturally produce clones. Science, however, has made enough progress in cloning to be able to clone mammals. The most recent and notable of these cloning projects is Dolly, the sheep. On February 22, 1997, scientists at the Rosalin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, cloned the first mammal with DNA from an adult cell. The mammal was the now famous sheep, Dolly. (Dolly died on February 14, 2003. In her life, she gave birth to a lamb named Bonnie, who was not a clone). The actual process used to clone Dolly was fairly complex, but here are the basic steps:
1. DNA from the sheep to be cloned is taken out and isolated.
2. DNA in the egg that will carry Dolly is taken out (this process is called denuclifying).
3. The DNA from the first sheep is put in the egg of a second sheep.
4. When the sheep "implanted" in this egg is born, it has the same genetic structure as the first sheep. It is a clone.
When Dolly was cloned, a world of controversy started to surround cloning. However, since Dolly, other mammals, like pigs, have been cloned and research continues into animal cloning at this time.
Animal cloning and human cloning (especially) create controversy. People around the world are divided on the subject of cloning. The U.S. Senate recently passed a bill (the final vote was 241 to 155) outlawing the cloning of humans and any research on human cloning in the United States. The bill also threatened fines of up to $1 million and 10 years in prison for activities related to cloning. There are, however, benefits as well as potential dangers in cloning people and animals. Let's discuss them now.
Many people say that cloning is beneficial to both individuals and to the human race in general. People in the agriculture business could increase quality and quantity of beef by cloning livestock with desirable characteristics. Scientists already are trying to use nuclear transfer to give livestock genes that would do this (technically, this is not considered cloning, but rather is the altering of existing genetic material), but the 5% efficiency rate that goes along with the process means that it is not very useful in practice. Scientists also think that cloning may be a way to increase the populations of endangered species. Cloning could also be used to replicate humans, for example, to enable couples to give birth if they otherwise couldn't, or to let parents re-create a dead child. It could be used for medical research and the study of genetic diseases. Cloning could also be used therapeutically, cloning only a few cells to replace the cells in a sick person. Since the cells would have the same genetic makeup of the sick person, they would not be rejected. The possibilities seem endless with cloning.
But, there is another, darker side to cloning. There are many reasons why people believe cloning is undesirable, mainly due to ethical reasons. Cloning could cause endangered animals that have been cloned to be wiped out by the same disease. Because they would share the same genetic structure, they might all be susceptible to a particular disease. Some people also believe that cloning would result in children who do not having an "open future," because their genes will cause them to become like the person they are a clone of. It might also make them try to be exactly alike that person, or exactly the opposite of that person. Religious organizations feel that cloning puts too much power in the hands of humans and that cloning ignores the fact that each human has a unique soul. Religious leaders believe that we need to draw the line between right and wrong more clearly in cloning. And even if these issues went away, scientists are still not yet sure if they can actually clone a healthy child.
So is cloning right or wrong? It depends on how you look at it. While there are benefits, there are also risks. There is a good and a bad side to it. And just like in many other isssues, you have to decide for yourself whether it is good or bad. Maybe the world will learn about and accept cloning, or maybe it will despise it. But until the world takes a step in any of these directions, all you can do is take a stand and hope the world follows it.
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