The Benefits of Animal Cloning
Length: 2001 words (5.7 double-spaced pages)
Put yourself into the body of someone who is need of a vital organ. You are on a waiting list, but who knows when you will receive this precious organ. The doctor says the chances of receiving an organ donor are slim because of your rare genetic make-up. The thought of praying for another human to die, just so you can live, seems selfish, but today, the only way to receive an organ is from the death, or the chance of death, of another human being. Even then, the donor may not match.
Now imagine it is the year 2007, and you are in dire need of a heart. The doctors do several tests to determine your genetic make-up, so they can find the right animal to match your needs. After replacing your heart with a pig heart, you recover and go on with everyday life. No one had to die, and you received your heart. With today's technology, this, and more human benefits, will be made possible with animal cloning.
The process of cloning is very complicated and involves making a genetically identical organism through non-sexual means (Olson). There are different ways to produce a clone, but one of the most common procedures is carried out by cell nuclear replacement. This procedure is often used because it is easier to target specific genes, so the DNA strands can be altered (Olson). In this procedure, the donor egg and a somatic cell from the animal are used to be cloned. The nucleus, which contains the genetic material, is removed from the donor egg and replaced with the nucleus from the cell of the animal to be cloned. "This creates a cloned embryo, which is then stimulated to begin dividing" (Centre).
Animal cloning controversies rose after 1997 when Ian Wilmut cloned the first mammal (sheep), named Dolly, from an adult cell (Wilmut, 21). Since the first cloned mammal, scientists have worked to find a practical application for cloning that will produce advances for human diseases. In some inherited disorders, such as hemophilia, cystic fibrosis and emphysema, the only way to treat such patients is through therapeutic proteins, which are obtained through the milk of an animal (Straight). These animals carry a certain protein that is secreted in their milk or blood, which is then harvested and purified for use (Nagal). Drugs made from these proteins are extremely scarce and expensive.
Recently, researchers have been able to transfer human genes that produce useful proteins into sheep and cows, which will then be produced in the milk of the animals ("Medical Uses.."). With the ability to clone, scientists will be able to genetically engineer animals for a particular protein and then mass-produce the proteins. In addition, cloned animals can be used to obtain a greater understanding for diseases and other mysteries of life. Researchers will be able to create better models of diseases with animal cloning, which will further progress in understanding and possibly treating such diseases (Nagal).
This research has been delayed by the ethical concerns of using animal cloning as a benefit for human needs. Some people feel as though using animal cloning to cure diseases is cruel to animals, and are mainly a potential moneymaker. Dr. Donald Bruce states in a press release concerning animal cloning, "Commercial convenience is an insufficient justification for this intervention-a step too far in commodifying animals. This represents a violation at a very fundamental level of the integrity of the animal when all researchers and consumers see are dollar signs" (Bruce). Even though Dr. Donald clearly states how he feels and brings about a good point, he needs to realize the limited context of the production of proteins in the milk of genetically modified animals. Researchers' primary intention is to help cure diseases when natural methods do not work, not to act in harsh manners toward the animals, or to make a profit.
Just as genetically altered animals are beneficial to curing human diseases, transgenic animal cloning can also play a role in benefiting humans in the future. Transgenic is "an animal in which there has been deliberate modification of its genome genetic makeup of an organisms responsible for inherited characteristics" (Margawati). Transgenic animals can benefit agriculture, production of medicine, and industry.
Farmers have always used selective breeding to produce animals that exhibit desirable traits. Some examples of this are a swine with high muscle mass, cows producing more milk with less lactose, and sheep that grow more wool. In the past, farmers would use growth hormones to promote such qualities. This became problematic when residue of the hormones remained in the meat, leaving it with a foul taste (Margawati). When researchers began to clone transgenic animals, it became possible to develop certain traits in animals, which increased the quality of their yield. When a farmer would like to raise the standards of a herd, the breeding process is very slow and sometimes incomes can decrease (Wilmut, 23). Many times when relying on sexual breeding alone to mass-produce these animals, there are chances of breeding out the desired traits (Freudenrich). Transgenic animal cloning will result in higher quality meats and dairies without the use of artificial hormones, which, in the end, can further harm humans.
Several farmers disagree with this method in risk of narrowing down the genetic gene pool. Many farmers go by the fundamental rules of selective breeding; one must maintain a high level of genetic variation, or there may be problems from inbreeding (Bruce). This raises questions of possible side effects of inbreeding. According to Jeffrey Rushen, who is a researcher at Dairy and Swine Research and Development, "...there remains no evidence to judge whether or not inbreeding leads to an increased incidence of lameness, or side effects." The chances of inbreeding can easily be avoided by staying away from closely related livestock. In the end, the chances of producing a higher quality of yield (i.e. additional milk, higher quality meat) are more likely than running into problems of narrowing down gene pools.
Along with those who believe that transgenic animal cloning will narrow down gene pools and become problematic, there are also those who believe that animal cloning is an unnatural method, and technological inventions are going too far to remain in tune with what we perceive as natural (Bruce & Freudenrich). This is one of the arguments against researchers who are trying to use animal cloning to increase production of livestock. In the United States, the world's premier meat-eating country, per-capita consumption is more than 2 kilograms a week and up to 112 kilograms a year. In today's economy, many people have given up in raising livestock because of the lifestyle and low profits. If this trend continues, there will be a massive decrease in meat production (During). Animal cloning enables farmers to produce increased numbers of herds with desirable qualities faster than through sexual reproduction methods (Bruce). Surely, the people who believe that animal cloning is unnatural will think differently when cloned animals are all that are left as a meat source.
In the same manner, "more than 40,000 American are on a waiting list in need of human organs"; one third to one-half will die before a matching organ can be found" (Tanne). The chances of receiving such organs are rare, since the only way one can receive a heart or lung is if another human dies. Since there is a worldwide shortage of donated human organs for transplants, researchers have opted for a new alternative for organs, animals. Xenotransplantation is the transplantation of organs, tissues or cells from one species to another. Researches have concentrated on the use of pigs, being that they are inexpensive, plentiful, easy to breed, and can be genetically manipulated to reduce the possibility and severity of transplant rejection ("Medical Uses..."). Pig heart valves are already used to repair human hearts after a tanning process renders the valves immunologically inert (Tanne). Pigs do have appealing characteristics to humans, but the fact is that humans and pigs are genetically different. Researchers have developed strategies to overcome the rejection of pig organs, which is where animal cloning comes a part of the picture ("Medical Uses..").
Because humans and pigs do not have the exact genetic make-up, researchers have used animal cloning to produce transgenic pigs suitable for xenotransplantation. With this procedure, "new genes are introduced into the DNA of the pig genes during the cloning process, and the other genes are taken out so they are no longer functional" (Tanne). With this knowledge, researchers can remove certain pathogens that cause rejection by humans, which will enable the production of genetically altered pigs. This could offer unlimited supply of organs, saving many innocent lives. Xenotransplantation can also serve as a temporary replacement for humans on a waiting list ("Medical Uses...").
This controversial issue raises many ethical concerns among society. One intuition that runs deep with various religious groups is the concern of this issue being morally acceptable. Some people feel very strongly about altering animals through the use of genetic techniques and that doing so is much like 'playing God'(Bruce). There are people who believe that humans do not have the right to treat animals with such cruelty, and killing animals to benefit humans is viewed as unsympathetic. Animal cloning and xenotransplanation have nothing to do with going against God and trying to play his role in life. Researchers are simply trying to find a more effective way to benefit human medical needs, and if that means doing a little harm to animals, then those steps need to be taken. If these people believe that God is the creator and that he did not want animals to be cloned, then he would not have granted us with the technology and research to do so.
The large number of benefits animal cloning has for humans overrule the ethical concerns. Many problems, such as finding cures for diseases, having less desirable qualities of livestock, scarcity of food (meat, milk), and shortage of human organ donors, can worsen as the world becomes more populated and faults are discovered every day. Animal cloning will help solve many of these problems, if people would allow research to continue.
Now, imagine a doctor telling you that your little girl's heart has failed, and that she is in need of an emergency transplant, or she will die. Since she has a rare blood type, the chances of receiving a heart soon are very unlikely. The doctor gives you the option of xenotransplanation and without hesitating, you give the doctor your consent in going through with the surgery. As a result of extensive research on animal cloning and going against ethical concerns, your little girl's life is saved and she is able to live a normal, healthy lifestyle.
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Strait, Sarah. "Potential Medical Benefits of Animal Cloning." Scientific America
? 21October 1999. 28 October 2003. Crescent Court, California.
Tanne, Janice. "Xenotransplantation: Huge Benefits, Hard Choices." 2 Nov. 2003.