In July 1996, the world was greeted with Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell. The rest, as they say, is history.
The world of cloning has come a long way since Dolly, but whilst the ethical issues still remain, this process of cloning and its implications become complicated. So, what is the world of cloning like now? Here are some areas where cloning is no longer science fiction but science fact. It may surprise you.
The financial viability of cloning endangered species is under debate and therefore not widespread as you may imagine.
You see you could spend billions on cloning endangered animals but that does not mean that they will survive. Where do you put them? Probably in a zoo as the reason they are becoming extinct in the first place is because their natural habitat is at threat or they have been hunted down. So, putting them straight back where they came from is a non-starter. Yes, some environments considered safe have allowed re-introduced animals to the wild, but at the moment it is down to the question ‘is it worth it?’.
There are also compassionate grounds to deal with as cloned animals suffer miscarriages, have birth defects, develop serious illnesses, and die prematurely. Currently it is not about saving individual endangered species but more about conserving areas of the planet in order to preserve habitats that are crucial for the preservation of the species at risk of extinction.
However, cloning of endangered species has happened. Groups that have successfully been cloned include cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. Scientists have also cloned mice, rats, rabbits, cats, mules, horses and dogs.
“De-extinction (also known as resurrection biology, or species revivalism) is the process of generating an organism that is either an extinct species or resembles an extinct species”. Wikipedia
Most people have seen the 1993 movie “Jurassic Park,” but that was the thoughts of fiction as it is not currently possible to bring a dinosaur back to life because the DNA is too old. However, that may not be the case in the future.
There are some more animals of the last Ice Age that could be restored through cloning because their DNA were preserved in permafrost and can still be extracted. These animals include the Woolly Mammoth and Sabre Toothed Cats. (For a list of “14 Extinct Animals That Could Be Resurrected” see Bonus below at the end of this post.
The argument for de-extinction is that supporters feel that we, as the human race, should be obliged to bring these animals back, as we are directly responsible for them being extinct in the first place. De-extinction supporters have ‘dubbed’ some extinct animals as ‘keystone’ species. A keystone species is an organism that helps define an entire ecosystem, and without them, the eco system of our planet would be dramatically different to what it is now. Examples of living keystone species are the Beaver, the Shark and the African Elephant. They all play a critical role in maintaining ecosystems.
However, there are people who oppose such an idea as they feel that not only would it be extremely expensive to bringing back extinct species but it would also cause a biodiversity loss. The definition of Biodiversity loss describes the decline in the number, genetic variability, and variety of species, and the biological communities in a given area. Biodiversity underpins the health of the planet and has a direct impact on all our lives.
Pets form an important addition to households all over the world and most people agree and accept that a pet is a member of the family. It is always a heart wrenching experience when they pass on, but what happens if the thought of cloning them comes into the equation?
There is a growing industry for cloning pets but which is still in its infancy. Contrary to the movies, animals so far cannot be cloned from blood, DNA, hair, or teeth. It is only possible with live tissue. Cloning a pet undergoes the following procedures and its implications are not without controversy:
- Extract DNA from the pet to be cloned through a biopsy of tissue. The tissue is then cryogenically preserved using temperatures below 130 degrees C.
- Designated ‘Surrogate’ animals to generate fertilized eggs.
- The DNA is erased from the fertilized eggs and the pet’s preserved DNA is inserted.
- The altered eggs are implanted back into the ‘Surrogate’ animal which may or may not get pregnant.
Whatever the animal, it is currently a particularly inefficient process and here are some unpleasant facts to consider before you want to consider cloning your beloved pet. For example, if someone wanted to clone their dog:
- It would take many dog surrogates to achieve a single successful pregnancy.
- A lot of cloned embryos would be required to create a single healthy puppy.
- Many dogs die as cells in the culture dish or as embryos in the womb and a few puppies die.
- The ‘Surrogate’ dogs undergo multiple pregnancies who basically have no say in the process.
- Unneeded clones have an undetermined fate.
- Getting a cloned copy does not mean that you will get an identical looking pet with the same personality.
- There is also the potential of birth defects and possible illness.
Small wonder that there is an argument for going down to the local animal welfare shelter and adopt a new cat or dog.
Sniffer dogs at airports
As well as pets being cloned, working animals are being cloned and one working animal that is increasing its presence, is the airport sniffer dog. For example, there are cloned sniffer dogs roaming South Korea’s Incheon Airport in Seoul searching for explosives or contraband luggage.
These animals have had some success. The pack of cloned Golden Labrador Retrievers, genetically identical, have been working at the airport for over 10 years and no-one would be the wiser that these canines are cloned.
The consensus is that cloned dogs are easier to train the arts of locating illegal imports and drugs than their naturally born co-workers. Indeed, the analysis shows that cloned dogs were constantly outperforming their counterparts. The costs of training the cloned dogs are markedly cheaper and minimises failures to hit the required standard to become a sniffer dog.
In 2019 it was announced the cloning of working dogs extended to the Chinese police hoping to cut training times and costs for China’s police dogs.
A cloned animal is a genetic copy of its parent, so it is safe to say that is composition (milk and flesh) is the same as the DNA extracted that is used to create it.
Livestock have been cloned for human consumption since 1998. Various authorities around the world have approved the use of meat and milk from cloned cattle, pigs, and goats and from the offspring of clones of any species traditionally used as food, following the usual safety standard checks. However, this is still in its infancy as cloned cattle are mainly used for breeding and then the offspring are used to feed the population. However, this is about to change.
China’s development of cloning livestock has been particularly active in this field mainly due to its demand for beef. It is anticipated that the nation of 1.4 billion people will soon be feasting on cloned cows and a Chinese genetics company is set to produce cattle on an industrial scale. This is Boyalife Genomics, a cloning facility in the coastal city of Tianjin who reputedly are to start producing 100,000 cloned cattle annually and them ramping up to a million a year.
The positive notion used by pro-cloning experts is that the cloning of livestock for food can lead to the end of world hunger. What do you think? I would love to hear your views on this controversial subject.
Cloning has entered into the world of sport, namely polo and potentially some horse competitions.
The polo player, Adolfo Cambiaso, the sport’s greatest player, made history when he rode out on a cloned horse in the Argentine Open Championship of 2016. In fact, during the tournament he rode on 6 cloned horses. He gathered a state of the art team of scientists who revolutionised the field of horse breeding as he went on to be the best player of all time in the world of Polo.
In 2003, the first ever clone of a champion racehorse was unveiled at a press conference in Italy. The horse named ‘Prometea’ was created by fusing the nucleus of a skin cell taken from the mother with an empty egg from another horse. The resulting embryo was returned to the mother’s womb after being cultured in the lab.
Others sports involved with cloning include dressage, showjumping, three-day-eventing, and carriage horse racing. There is also no official objection to date for cloned horses to complete in the next Olympic Games, although nothing has been announced as yet.
This is still in the world of science fiction and is the most controversial. Scientists in China have successfully cloned two monkeys but despite several scientific claims in South Korea, there is no scientific evidence of any country cloning a human being as the process is extremely difficult, more so than in other mammals.
It is true that we have been able to clone human embryos for several years now. However, the ethical implications of such a project to create a human being are immense as there are question marks on the cost, the number of embryos needed, the total of failed attempts that will occur, to the completed clone suffering untold health problems. The question about the possibility of cloning a human has changed from ‘could we?’ to ‘should we?’ What do you think? Leave a comment as we would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
Bonus “14 Extinct Animals That Could Be Resurrected” Click on link if this interests you.