Cloning: Many Questions and Few Answers
Length: 369 words (1.1 double-spaced pages)
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The birth of Dolly was announced by Ian Wilmut's team from Roslin Institute in February 1997. There is actually nothing radically new in the way Dolly was made, since lower vertebrates, such as frogs, had been cloned in 1968 by John Gurdon of Cambridge University. The term 'clone' originates from the Greek word 'klwn', meaning 'twig', because whenever we divide an overgrown shrub or successfully cultivate a houseplant cutting, cloning has occurred. Nuclear transfer technology was used in which a donor's udder cell, a nucleus with the genome intact, was fused with an unfertilised egg cell. Dolly is considered a clone of the sheep who provided the udder cell since her genetic makeup is identical to it. What is novel about Dolly is that she is the first mammal cloned from an adult, the result after 277 failed attempts.
At present, though nuclear transfer is still a highly inefficient, costly and difficult process, people are already contemplating the advantages of such a breakthrough. Indeed, the possibilities seem endless: hope for infertile couples, cloning for spare parts, replacements for loved ones and the advent of other invaluable benefits in animal husbandry, medical science and biological fields. But what about the ethical considerations we should include? A Time Magazine poll in March 1997 reported that 74% of those surveyed believe it is against God's will to clone human beings. Human cloning is also considered illegal in England and Norway, though not in the USA. There are definitely many issues worth debating. Even if cloning is to become a reality, there should exist some form of control over the nature of research. The question is what kind of controls should this be? Who should have access to the technology and its products?
Should governments support the funding of such research? If they refuse, would a funding vacuum be left that market forces will quickly fill?
As of now, there are many questions but too few answers. One thing that we can be sure of is that Dolly will definitely go down in history as a significant milestone in life. Whether it marks a triumph or fall of mankind and life remains very much to be seen.