err is human - but to clone one divine?
scientists today actually doubt the possibility of human
cloning. Some, including the famous reproductive biologist
Richard Seed, have made it their stated aim to do so.
Currently, in Europe it is illegal to conduct research
into human cloning. In the US, a "5-year moratorium"
has been introduced. So then, there will be no one cloned
in Europe & North America any time soon.
not? I hear you ask. Most laws are frequently broken,
at some time or another. Well, in this case things are
more complex. You can’t just go to your local chemist
& buy the equipment and chemicals you need; you
must have a lab and the provision to order whatever
you may need. This initially will cost a fortune, and
you need the relevant contacts to get your equipment.
Alternatively, you need a day job in a lab that gives
you the access to everything you may need. You are then
in a position where any cloning work you do can only
at best be a hobby, albeit more extreme than most! You
then have the knowledge that there are others in the
lab, and if any of them find out what you’re up to,
you will never work in a lab again. It would be very
difficult to keep all evidence under wraps in such an
consider that from an academic point of view; it just
isn’t very interesting. The barriers to cloning one
individual from another are practical. When a human
being is cloned, he will be famous, but his impact on
science will be minimal. Identical twins are clones;
a successful cloning experiment will furnish us with
precious little else other that a recipe for cloning.
Studying other aspects of development would yield new,
functional and possibly groundbreaking data. So then,
on this basis most people would rather study something
else. The only real incentive would be money.
Most biologists will tell you that they
are against cloning humans. Ian Wilmut, the ‘creator’
of Dolly has frequently said he finds the idea "repugnant".
Others will argue that there is no reason to. However,
what these people refer to in this case is cloning of
a whole organism. I too would say it is pointless. The
only conceivable application of the technology would
be to satisfy the egotistical whims of people who should
know better. Sadly there is no doubt that these people
will pay handsomely for such a facility. Even if it
remains a criminal practice, it probably wouldn’t remain
so absolutely everywhere, so these people should be
able to go waste their money somewhere in 5-10 years.
have heard it suggested that human cloning is the "beginning
of the end" for the human race, the rational being
as follows. In an evolutionary context, cloning is a
bad thing. Evolution relies on the continued ‘mixing
& matching’ of different versions of different genes.
If one particular arrangement of genes confers a significant
advantage to it’s bearer, then it’s bearer should have
more opportunity that his pears to pass on his genes,
including the advantageous region. In this way, this
arrangement of genes has a higher representation in
future generations, making the species ‘fitter’ as a
whole. One effect of cloning is to bypass this re-arrangement,
so no new configurations arise; hence evolution itself
is impaired. This certainly helps explain why almost
all higher organisms utilise sexual reproduction, at
huge cost to the individual in terms of time, effort
and above all energy.
goes as follows: there are 6 billion people on the planet
at the moment. For cloning to have any real impact on
the natural ‘flow’ of genes through the generations,
the number of people that would need to be cloned would
be absolutely staggering. Considering the initial cost
that such a technology would demand means that very
few people will be able to afford it. Admittedly the
cost will fall, I believe that by the time it becomes
realistically affordable for any but the richest of
the rich, the novelty of the idea will have worn off
& people will have moved on to another fad; possibly
‘Designer Children’; but that’s just speculation. And
this assumes that human cloning will be legal, which
is another kettle of fish.
evening around dinner, a friend of mine, a medical student,
asked me if there was any reason why, with relevant
advances in neurosurgery, you could not clone yourself
a new body, and then have your nervous system transplanted
into the new body. This would avoid the ravages of old
ages and/or sustained injuries and possibly allow you
to exist indefinitely; just exchanging bodies every
couple of decades. First I must point out that a ‘brain
transplant’ is not a realistic possibility, nor will
it be any time soon. The nervous system is an enormously
complex piece of machinery, and has proved very resilient
to medical advance. However, brushing past that issue,
it did trouble me for a while; indeed why wouldn’t it
work? Then it dawned on me, this assumes that the brain
itself is unaffected by time, which is simply not the
case. There are many neurological diseases that are
late onset; senility is a trait associated with age
and so on. It is quite clear that with extreme old age,
the brain just doesn’t function as it once did. Children
can learn at a pace quite unobtainable by adults, and
this trend by and large continues with time. Imagine
then the state of a nervous system 200 years old in
a new & fit body. Although this idea may prolong
your life, the human brain has spent it’s evolutionary
life with a lifespan of less then 30 years to deal with,
it is not equipped for a working life measured in hundreds
practical interest in cloning at the moment is for organ
transplants. There is a large black market for organs
in the world today. This is because there is a much
higher demand for transplant organs than there is supply.
Also, it is usually a matter of life or death, so people
will pay whatever it takes to get a new liver or kidney
etc. Still, due to histoincompatibility, many transplants
fail. Everyone, bar identical twins is genetically different.
Our immune systems recognise anything that is not marked
as ‘self’ with special signals. Hence, the new organ
is perceived by the immune system as something to fight
off. This can be circumvented to an extent, but the
transplant patient will be on immunosuppressive drugs
for the rest of their life; hardly ideal.
advances in understanding what chemical signals lead
to the differentiation of certain cell types, it is
hoped that from one cell, development can be directed
to one specific cell type only, or towards cell types
needed to make up a specific organ, and hence that organ.
The process of cellular differentiation remains rather
poorly understood, but headway is always being made.
It is conceivable that development could be directed
to omit the formation of a nervous system and the resultant
body then harvested for organs, though this idea rests
well with very few people. It is unlikely to ever be
it appears that cellular regeneration does occur, though
only in ‘glia’ cells, not the neurones that make up
the ‘pathways’ down which the impulses travel &
enable the nervous system to function. However, it seems
that it may be possible for these glia cells to differentiate
into a neurone, given the right stimuli. Hence, it is
possible that repair of brain damage or degenerative
disease could be remedied using cells created by cloning
about cloning and genetics tend to be fought at either
extreme; there are people who believe there is something
profoundly wrong in ‘meddling’ with our genes, of ‘playing
god’, while there are other gung ho individuals who
see it as the key to a brave new world. I, along with
most biologists, take the view that cloning will neither
change the world nor have a significant negative impact
on it. There are other technologies afoot in biology
and the physical sciences that will have much more of
an immediate and marked impact on the world. Cloning
just seems to frequently clash with peoples’ sense of
right and wrong, or natural & unnatural.