What once was purely fiction, not too long ago, has become a real and present reality. Cloning animals and humans is now a hotly debated issue of science versus values. This new science became a public reality in 1997 upon the first successful cloning of an animal. Today, only legislative actions delay further explorations into this arena.
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There are three primary cloning processes, each with a different objective. 1. DNA cloning happens when the genetic material from a donor cell is implanted into the nucleus of an egg cell, producing a genetic duplicate of the donor cell. The donor material is fused into the egg cell using electric current. 2. Embryo cloning involves removing cells from a fertilised egg and allowing them to grow into duplicate embryos. This is how twins, and triplets come about. 3. Therapeutic cloning, or somatic cell nuclear transfer, is similar to adult DNA cloning, except the stem cell material is removed before the embryo matures. This material is then implanted within the tissue or organ substance of the donor, and a new healthy tissue formation is grown.
The cells used in cloning research are called stem cells, of which there are two types. Embryonic stem cells are capable of developing into a full grown organism if left to grow on their own. Adult stem cells grow into specific parts of an organism, like a liver, or a brain, or muscle tissue. The problem with using embryonic cells is the embryos are destroyed in the process of cloning. This has given rise to much controversy in terms of the rights of the embryo. Many believe life begins at conception, and so consider the cloning of an embryo to be equivalent to murder. As a result, federal legislation prohibits funding for embryonic stem cell research studies, however states are able to draft their own legislation, either for or against research.
In the case of accident victims, or transplant patients, obtaining the needed tissues, or organ parts in a timely manner can mean the difference between life and death. In situations like this, being able to "grow" needed tissue materials and organs in the lab would provide a timely source of treatment. In addition, diseases classified as untreatable, such as Parkinson's, Altzheimer's, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and heart disease would be treatable, using new healthy tissue transplants to replace the diseased, or malfunctioning areas. A full understanding and use of stem cells could, in fact, revolutionise the way in which medical professionals diagnose and treat illness and disease.
Adult DNA cloning is particularly in demand in the case of couples who are infertile. This method, while providing couples with the chance to conceive, is basically a genetic duplicate of the donor's DNA cells. This scenario brings up issues that ask whether or not a donor would be classified as the parent, when in fact the offspring is a genetic twin. Also at issue is the capability to determine the gender of an embryo, which would make it possible to select which embryo lives and which one dies depending on its gender. Currently, little legislation exists to regulate the reproductive method for cloning, so clinics which specialise in infertility cases are free to cater to their patients' requests provided the patients can pay for these costly procedures.
While cloning has advanced considerably since 1997, it's not a perfected process. The possibility that a specimen will become contaminated during the cloning process is still there. When contamination happens, mutations are likely to occur. In terms of a transplanted organ, or a developing foetus, a mutation would be a catastrophic error. Opponents to cloning have their proof in the case of Dolly, the infamous cloned sheep, in that over 200 failures were required to produce a healthy result.
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