As I sat watching a fascinating, thought provoking Sci-Fi film on Netflix the other day, I wondered what the world would be like if we had clones of ourselves roaming the streets. Would it be like the movie I was watching when overpopulation mandated that one child per family had to be cryopreserved?
The seven sisters in the movie weren’t artificially cloned, but they were identical. Since only one was legally allowed to survive in this futuristic world, a scheme to let each one participate in society one day a week was developed. Hence the following movie title: What Happened to Monday.
Would it be too confusing to have clones of yourself walking around the same city? And, what would be the point anyways? Identical twins or septuplets have different personalities; therefore, they are completely different people no matter how genetically and/or phenotypically alike they are. Well….this is where my mind started wondering as I eagerly watched waiting to find out what, in fact, did happen to Monday.
The idea of having multiple versions of ourselves due to artificial human cloning has been the topic of many movies and books for decades, but for most people the reality of this seems preposterous or at the very least unethical. Politicians, scientists, and ethicists were in an uproar back in 1997 when those involved in the Clonaid project told the world they had cloned the first human. Though after much back and forth over the issue, there was never any scientific evidence verifying Eve, the alleged first human clone existed. After reading more about the project and the religious group that supports human cloning, you would think it’s Sci-Fi, but this is real life.
While society as a whole believes it’s unethical to clone humans, cloning our pets and/or livestock for human consumption is legal and a lucrative business. Just ask ViaGen.
In 2008, the FDA concluded that meat and milk from cow, pig, and goat clones and the offspring of any animal clones are as safe as the regular food we eat every day. Technology relating to mammalian cloning hasn’t changed all that much since Dolly the Sheep, the first mammal to be cloned in 1996.
ViaGen uses somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT) to clone animals which was the same technology used to clone Dolly. This process fuses a somatic cell — any cell type in the body other than a sex cell in addition to an enucleated ovum (egg/oocyte) — by inserting the somatic cell into the empty (no nucleus) ovum. If a surrogate is used for this procedure, a cloned reproduction of the animal from which the donated somatic cell arises. In therapeutic situations, a flask of cells would be used in place of the surrogate so that the somatic cell (not diseased or mutated) DNA could be cloned in order to solve a plethora of problems that arise from mutated DNA.
Ever since the completion of the Human Genome Project (HGP) in 2003, much advancement in gene therapy has become available. Now that we know more about what genes are responsible for specific disorders, it’s easier to correct the mutated DNA through different techniques including cloning. These procedures are cloning parts of the genome, but not the entirety. Even though there has been so much progress, using our genome to clone an entire human is still science fiction. The following list provides specific examples of said progress:
- The discovery of over 1,800 genes that cause disease.
- Less time is needed to find a gene suspected of causing an inherited disease as it once did prior to HGP.
- More than 2,000 genetic tests are now available, enabling patients to learn their genetic risks.
- New biotechnology-based products are currently in clinical trials.
- Other projects such as HapMap, which is a catalog of common genetic variation, or haplotypes, in the human genome, have transpired.
- Ethical, Legal and Social Implications are now being considered.
- The field of pharmacogenomics, the study of how genetic variation affects an individual’s response to a drug, is growing.
Another enhancement that has occurred since the HGP is the work done to bring back extinct animals such as the woolly mammoth. A group at Harvard uses Crispr, a gene editing tool, to add woolly mammoth genes into elephant DNA which results in a hybrid animal. Though still in the early stages (not even close to an authentic animal), this research would have been unfathomable preceding the HGP. This technology doesn’t result in a woolly mammoth clone, but it shows the capabilities that researchers have nowadays. Like all new research, especially when cloning, gene editing, and animal testing are involved, bringing back to life extinct animals has ethical implications that need to be considered.
With the recent successful monkey clones, which are more closely related to human beings compared to livestock, it’s plausible that humans can (scientifically) be cloned in the future. Legally and ethically, it would remain questionable.
According to one of the scientists involved in cloning the first primate (Mu-ming Poo of the Chinese Academy of Sciences), cloning a human using the same SCNT technology is possible, but they are not interested in doing it. Cloning primates is still a new reality after trying for decades, but the group in China, among others, intend to use cloned monkeys to study disease — not get one step closer to cloning humans.
When it comes down to it, most people are not really interested in having human clones, whether it’s for reasons of ethics or population control. The intention seems to be more on the side of improving the human beings that already exist.
Helen Santoro is a Boston-based science writer who has been working in the field of science for over six years. Before moving to the bustling city, Helen attended Hamilton College where he received Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience. She then worked as a res archer at Boston Children’s Hospital where she helped uncover the mechanisms behind acute and chronic pain conditions with the long-term goal of improving patient care. Her writing has spanned from genome engineering to biochemistry to gender issues in the STEMM field.