These DNA molecular visualizations were created for the multifaceted ‘DNA’ project at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Australia. Having celebrating nearly 60 years since the discovery of the double helix. The ‘DNA’ project includes a five-part documentary series, museum film and ‘DNA’ online resources for teachers and students. The dynamics and molecular shapes were based on X-ray crystallographic models and other published scientific data sets. Leading scientists, including many Nobel Laureates, critiqued the animations during their development. Particular effort was made to ensure the relative shapes, sizes and ‘real-time’ dynamics were as accurate as possible.
The idea of cloning has been considered since before the discovery of DNA. Cloning may give us insights into what makes us individuals, and how much of our personality and behavior is based on our genetics. It may also destroy our sense of individuality and the value of life. Many of these issues are discussed in-depth on this page.
Note: Cloning is common in nature with plants, single-celled animals, and many invertebrates. By the most basic definition, asexual reproduction is cloning. For that reason, cloning plants and invertebrates is an old science, and is probably covered in your science textbook. Therefore, the focus of this area will not be on cloning plants and worms, but on the new areas of discovery.
HISTORY OF CLONING
It seems that every week, newspapers report on new advances in the science of cloning. Everybody knows about Dolly the cloned sheep, but few people know all the details about cloning, including the fact that scientists have been working on it for over 100 years.
Cloning in Nature
Cloning has been going on in the natural world for thousands of years. A clone is simply one living thing made from another, leading to two organisms with the same set of genes. In that sense, identical twins are clones, because they have identical DNA. Sometimes, plants are self-pollinated, producing seeds and eventually more plants with the same genetic code. Some forests are made entirely of trees originating from one single plant; the original tree spread its roots, which later sprouted new trees. When earthworms are cut in half, they regenerate the missing parts of their bodies, leading to two worms with the same set of genes. However, the ability to intentionally create a clone in the animal kingdom by working on the cellular level is a very recent development.
Reliable cloning can be used to make farming more productive by replicating the best animals. It can make medical testing more accurate by providing test subjects that all react the same way to the same drug. It can allow mass production of genetically altered animals, plants, and bacteria. It may settle once and for all what part of personality is dependent on genetics and what part on environment. In short, it can be beneficial to almost every area of biological science.
THE FUTURE OF CLONING
Cloning is truly a monumental accomplishment. But what can we do with it? Very few see a future society of cloned humans. Mad scientists with armies of cloned zombies are highly improbable due to the current cost, failure rate, and time involved. However, there are some practical applications being considered. Which are possible and which are doomed to remain in the realm of science fiction? Only the future will tell.
Most Prevalent Application for Cloning
What many scientists foresee as the most probable and widespread application of cloning is the mass production of genetically engineered animals. Scientists have to be very careful about protecting the altered portion of the genome; if the new/altered gene is damaged, the animal carrying the damaged gene will not be as useful to the scientists. Because natural breeding can lead to the decay of the new/altered gene, cloning is the best option, because the original DNA is used over and over to make new animals. In fact, mammalian cloning was only pursued as a step toward copying genetically altered cells
Organs for Transplant
Another option open to the future is the cloning of specific organs for transplant. Each year, many people die, unable to find a suitable organ donor. In addition, those who do find donors many times have to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives. If scientists can find a way to force cells to differentiate to become a failing organ, they should be able to grow those cells into a working, adult organ. Because the new organ would be an exact match for the patient, there would be no need for anti-rejection drugs. Many predict that the first organ to be cloned in this way may be bone marrow, because it is a liquid organ and has no shape. However, it is conceivable that solid organs would be able to be cloned outside a body as well.
THE ETHICS OF CLONING
Cloning, simply defined, is creating a new organism that shares the same genetic code as another. Each step taken toward making cloning quicker, better, and cheaper brings these ethical questions further from the realm of the hypothetical and closer to the realm of fact.
Cloning Endangered/Extinct Species
All endangered species have one thing in common — there’s not many animals left. A lack of animals leads to inbreeding, and a lack of genetic diversity. Researchers are always careful when trying to reestablish endangered species to maintain genetic diversity by creating different families and trying to inbreed as little as possible. If the scientists just let the animals breed without control, there will be almost no genetic diversity, which will lead to recessive traits being expressed. Usually, this results in diseases and deformities.
Core Issue to Cloning
The core issue behind cloning seems to have to do with the relationship between genetic uniqueness and personal individuality. Animals may or may not have their own personalities and sense of individuality, and if they exist, they may differ from species to species, so there may never be a resolution to the question of cloning animals.
But humans are a different matter entirely. Humans are unique not because of their body build or genetic makeup or life experience, but because of the unique contribution they each have to make to the world. The morality of human cloning lies not in the cloning process itself, but in societal reaction to him. If society can keep itself from branding the clone as a duplicate person and limiting him to his predecessor’s abilities; if instead the clone is accepted just as a normal human being who is unique because of his unique contribution he has to make to the world, then cloning of humans may be an option.