Clones and Genomes

"One of the worst myths of cloning is that genetics is destiny"
Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe

Cloning is the process of making an identical copy of an organism. A clone therefore is a genetic twin of a donor individual. A clone will always be younger than his or her adult donor twin and despite their genetic identity will have a different life than the donor. Cloning of humans is currently proposed by fertility specialists in Italy and the US. It is for technical difficulties rightly rejected by most scientists at this time. In the US the cloning of humans or the use of human embryos for therapeutic purposes is allowed by privately but not federally funded research. The European Parliament calls for the ban on patenting and cloning of human beings as specified in the Council of Europe Human Rights and Biomedicine Convention. The European Parliament insists that there should be a universal and specific ban, at the level of the United Nations, on the cloning of human beings. Despite worldwide concern and opposition, cloning is a technical reality. The first animal ('Dolly' the sheep) was cloned in 1997. Recently the cloning of endangered or even extinct species has been attempted. In general, cloning is thought to be used mostly in agriculture, for animal donor organs in medicine, or combined with genetic engineering to produce animals with human genes. Except for the willful combination, cloning is not the same as genetic engineering, yet it will strongly influence the public view of all things genetic. The emotionally charged aspect of reproductive cloning of humans  -  to 'recreate' a dead child or produce an alter ego  -  will affect decisions on how to use or not to use cloning in medicine. Cloning strikes at the core of our humanity and its technical feasibility has brought an immediate urgency to reevaluate the moral end ethical implication of human genetics in general.

While cloning does not per se include the genetic manipulation of the genome of the cloned organisms, a combination of genetic engineering and cloning is being done (cloning farm animals to produce human growth hormones or antibodies for medical purposes), this prospect of merging the two sciences in humans would be troubling (see Risks and Ethics). However, therapeutic cloning, where the act of cloning does not result in a full grown organism, but the generation of embryonic stem cells for the regeneration of adult tissue for transplant procedures or organ regeneration, is being pursued. Therapeutic cloning will certainly be most effective in combination with genetic engineering, or genetherapy, approaches where defective genes can be replaced by a normal one to regenerate proper organ functioning.


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Copyright © 2001-2003 Lukas K. Buehler