Cloning and Genetics: The Brave New World Closes In

Is Dolly Really a Clone?

When the creation of Dolly, the first mammal cloned from adult cells, was first announced in February of 1997 there was a storm of publicity and controversy. While many wondered about the purpose of animal cloning and the possibilities such a success held for further animal applications, others were more concerned about the possible application to human beings. If we can clone sheep, can we clone humans? Should we clone humans? Why should we clone humans? Should humans be cloned to provide a baby for childless, infertile couples? Should we clone humans for embryo research? Should we clone humans to make extra copies of people with good genes? Would clones have a soul? While I answered these and other questions about human cloning in my article Can Humans Be Cloned Like Sheep? in retrospect, there was one question that was virtually ignored at the outset: Was Dolly a true clone?

Looking back, this appears to be a legitimate question that should have been more obvious. After all, Dolly was the only success amid 276 failures. There were 277 cell fusions made, with only 29 growing as embryos. All 29 were implanted into 13 ewes with only one pregnancy and one live birth. Dolly really beat the odds. There was also the fact that Dolly was not cloned from a currently living adult. Dolly’s older twin had been dead for several years. Some of her tissues were harvested and kept frozen in the lab, so there was no live animal with which to compare Dolly.

Dolly’s authenticity was formally challenged in a January 30, 1998 letter to the editor of the journal Science{1}. The authors offered seven reasons for skepticism concerning Dolly’s identity as a clone of an adult cell. Among them was the fact that Dolly was alone and not yet joined by another adult clone from the Roslin Institute or any other laboratory. Also, though omitted by the original paper, it had been learned that the original sheep had been pregnant when the tissues were removed, raising the possibility that Dolly was cloned from a fetal cell rather than an adult cell. In addition, the questioning scientists called for additional genetic tests to establish Dolly’s identity.

Although Ian Wilmut, the Scottish scientist who is Dolly’s co-creator, admitted that Dolly might be a one in a million fluke, he and others were busy performing genetic tests to fully establish that Dolly was an authentic clone from an adult cell. Other labs had so far failed to duplicate Wilmut’s success after hundreds of tries. This may not be so unusual since Dolly was the only success out of 300 nuclear transfers and the real odds may be as high as one in 1000. There was no way to know for sure. Wilmut may have gotten lucky indeed to achieve success after only 300 tries.{2}

A pair of papers in the British journal Nature{3} remedied much of the concern over Dolly’s authenticity. DNA microsatellite and DNA fingerprinting analyses conclusively demonstrated that Dolly was an identical DNA copy of the cells of a 6-year-old ewe and not a clone of the fetus carried inside that ewe.

Cloning Mice Makes Cloning Humans More Feasible

Even with the clear success of cloning sheep, which Dolly’s appearance and confirmation make plain, many doubted that the technology used to produce Dolly could be applied to humans. This skepticism was largely due to the universal failure to clone mice from adult cells.

Mice have a number of advantages as experimental animals for cloning. The gestational time in mice is very short–a matter of weeks, their embryos are easier to manipulate than sheep and cows, and their genetics are already well understood.{4} But it was widely recognized that the early development of mice and sheep is significantly different. In sheep, the DNA in the newly formed nucleus remains dormant for several days. This was suspected to provide time for the DNA to be reprogrammed from its original function to embryonic functions. Mice, on the other hand, begin using the DNA in the newly formed nucleus after just 24 hours. It was thought that this might prove to be insufficient time for the DNA to be reprogrammed.

However, this too has been overcome, and in dramatic fashion. In July of 1998, Nature published results by T. Wakayama, working in Hawaii, documenting the cloning of mice.{5} And not just one mouse, but over 50 mice. Three successive generations were cloned, raising the conundrum that the “grandmother” was the twin sister of the “granddaughters.”{6}

But what did Wakayama and his colleagues do that was different to bring about success? Strangely enough, no one is really sure. Apart from a few tricks of timing, the major difference seems to be that they used a cell type that no one had used before, and it worked! As an aside, Wakayama tried other adult mouse cells (neurons and testicular cells) that only brought about the usual negative results.

But they also tried cumulus cells. Cumulus cells are a non-growing group of cells that surround an egg cell after it is released from the ovaries. This served to confirm the suspicion that adult cells need to be quiescent, or non-growing, to be successful in cloning experiments. Still, the nuclear transfer technique employed by Wakayama was successful between 2 and 3% of the time using cumulus cells. This rate of success is ten times better than the technique that led to Dolly, but still very low, making the process tedious.

The success with cumulus cells is why the first cloned mouse was named Cumulina. It is also interesting that only cells from females have been successful in cloning attempts thus far. This could be problematic. For, you see, if all you need is a quiescent adult cell, an egg, and a womb, well, male involvement isn’t really necessary. Perhaps it’s best not to speculate what, if anything, this may mean in the future.

For many, the real significance of successful mouse cloning techniques is its application to humans. The early stages of embryonic development are very similar in mice and humans. Therefore, many believed that since cloning mice seemed next to impossible because of the early onset of DNA activity in mice and humans, cloning humans would also remain technologically impossible. Cumulina and her sisters have changed all that.

What Will Animal Cloning Be Used For?

So now we can clone sheep and mice. Apart from the possibilities for humans, what’s the big deal? Why are scientists and pharmaceutical companies spending so much time and money trying to clone animals? Quite simply, the combination of the possible relief of human suffering from genetic disease with the potential to turn a handsome profit makes animal cloning nearly irresistible.

In the December 1998 issue of Scientific American, Ian Wilmut spells out some of the potential uses of animal cloning.{7} Principally, cloning will be used to create large numbers of what are called transgenic animals. Transgenic animals are genetically engineered to contain genes from another species. Wilmut and his colleagues created Dolly in an attempt to discover a more reliable method of reproducing transgenic sheep.

Creating transgenic animals is very tedious, difficult, and risky work. The Roslin Institute and PPL Therapeutics, for whom Wilmut works, transferred into sheep the gene for human factor IX, a blood- clotting protein used to treat hemophilia. With the proper genetic enhancement, sheep will produce this blood-clotting factor in their milk, which can then be harvested and sold on the market. The first transgenic sheep produced this way, Polly, was born in the summer of 1997. It is actually simpler to clone Polly than it would be to create another transgenic sheep through gene transfer.

Cloning offers many other possibilities for reproducing other kinds of transgenic animals. One is the production of animals containing transgenic organs suitable for organ transplants into humans. Pig organs are just about the right size for transplantation into humans. However, a pig heart, or liver, or kidney, would be severely and quickly rejected by our immune system. However, if the right human genes could be transferred into pigs, the organs they produce would be recognized as a human organ and not a pig organ. There would still be the problems associated with any organ transplant between humans, but these are much more manageable than cross-species immune rejection. At present, thousands die every year waiting for organs to become available. Cloning such transgenic animals could create a large and renewable source of organs for transplant.

Transgenic animals could also be created for research purposes to study human genetic diseases. Transferring defective human genes into appropriate animal hosts could produce more workable research vehicles for discovering new treatments and cures not possible using human subjects. Cloning of transgenic animals may also prove useful to create cells helpful in treating human diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, and muscular dystrophy. In addition, cloning could be used to produce highly productive herds of sheep, cows, and pigs from animals that are already known to be excellent milk, meat, and leather producers.

Obviously, the uses of animal cloning seem limited only by our imaginations. Of course, if you are already opposed to the use of animals in experiments, or even in their use for food, these ideas are fraught with ethical difficulties. As a Christian, however, I have answered this question. The Lord Himself produced the first skins for humans in Genesis 3:21 and later after the flood, the Lord allowed animals to be used for food (Gen. 9:2-4). While the utmost of care needs to be given to ensure that God’s creatures, for whom we have been given responsibility (Gen. 1:26-28), do not suffer needlessly, the Lord clearly allows animals to be used to enhance our own lives, even if it costs them theirs.

New Uses for Human Embryo Research?

What if I told you that recent breakthroughs in human genetic research might make it possible to dramatically treat patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart disease, diabetes, spinal cord injury, and a host of other degenerative diseases? In some cases, these treatments may actually cure many of these diseases and would not require the use of cells obtained from aborted fetuses. Hopefully, I’ve got your attention.

The November 6, 1998 issue of Science{9} announced the first successful attempts to cultivate human embryonic stem cells that have the potential to treat all the above diseases and more. However, they come with their own set of difficult and perhaps more serious ethical concerns.

First, just what are embryonic stem cells? Stems from plant seedlings give rise to all sorts of different structures such as trunks, branches, leaves, flowers, and eventually seeds and fruits. Animal embryonic stem cells do much the same thing. Stem cells have the potential to grow into just about any tissue that is present in the adult organism. Researchers call this potential totipotency, meaning they are potent to produce all tissues. Embryonic stem cells have been isolated from mice since the early ’80s. Such research has been impossible in humans for ethical reasons. Stem cells only come from embryos in the earliest stages of development.

No one was willing to simply use embryos to obtain stem cells, thus killing the embryo, every time stem cells were needed. But, if stem cells could be isolated and cultivated in the laboratory so they could grow and divide and maintain their stem cell functions, then a continual supply could be maintained without risk to further embryos. What is called a stem cell line would effectively be created that could be used indefinitely. This research was greeted with such comments as “extremely important,” “very encouraging,” and “a major technical achievement with great importance for human biology.”{10}

What you may have noted in the above description is that a human embryo must still be used to create this stem cell line. In fact, the study reported in Science indicates that thirty-six embryos obtained from in vitro fertilization clinics in Madison, Wisconsin and Israel were used to create five stem cell lines. The embryos were obtained with the consent of the individuals whose eggs and sperm were used to create them and the approval of the local institutional review board.

The major concern expressed so far is for the legality for other labs to use these cells. Since there is a ban on the use of federal funds for research involving tissues derived from human embryos, this research was carried out using private funds from Geron Corporation, a Menlo Park, California biotechnology firm. The availability of these stem cell lines now raises the question of whether these cells can be used by other labs currently funded by government grants. Predictably, one researcher is applying for grant money to use these stem cells to deliberately test, and hopefully repeal this restriction.{11}

Proponents of stem cell research criticize the federal ban by suggesting that this leaves the government out of the regulatory picture since no guidelines have been issued for private research. I agree that the lack of guidelines for private industry is an oversight, but opening up government funding is not the answer. The ban should remain in force. Guidelines need to be issued that forbid this important work as long as human embryos are sacrificed to produce these cell lines. Research in animals should be encouraged to see if stem cells could be produced by other means. The end does not justify the means.

The Prospects for Human Cloning: The Enigma of Dr. Richard Seed

I am frequently asked how soon I think the first human clone will be produced. I usually respond that somewhere in the world within the next five to ten years, someone will announce the creation of the first human clone. But if we are to believe Dr. Richard Seed, the first human clone will appear before the year 2001. In December 1997, Dr. Richard Seed, physicist turned fertility specialist, announced that he intends to clone human beings. He said, “I know of at least fifteen people who want to clone humans, but haven’t got quite up the nerve to do it.”{12} When asked if he had the nerve, Seed replied, “I have the nerve.”

Richard Seed appeared in the news again in September of 1998 when he announced his plans to clone himself in two years and that his wife agreed to carry the baby!{13} Seed reported that he had received hundreds of calls from individuals that want either themselves or their dying children cloned. Seed thinks this is a first step to human immortality. On January 7, 1998 Seed affirmed on ABC News Nightline his remarks from a National Public Radio interview, that cloning technology will allow us to “become one with God. We are going to have almost as much knowledge and almost as much power as God.”{14}

Right now you’re probably thinking this guy is a kook. Why worry about him? Well, that’s precisely why we need to pay attention to him. He has the ability; he perfected embryo transfers in humans. He certainly has the motivation and nerve, and he is still seeking the cash to carry it out. But if he is accurate in the number of calls he has received, money may not be a problem for long. And even if the U.S. Congress passes a bill banning human cloning, Seed has said he will move his operation to Tijuana, Mexico.

People like Richard Seed fully explain why I believe someone, somewhere in the world will produce a human clone very soon. The question is, Are we going to just throw up our hands and surrender, or will we continue to stand up for the sanctity of human life and the sacredness of the human embryo?

If we don’t think this through carefully and organize a cogent response to this threat to human dignity, the attitude of people like Prof. James Robl at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst will prevail. He said:

There is no clear-cut definition for what is life. And this is something, I think, that society is going to have to think about, is going to have to make some definitions, and those definitions may not be permanent, they may change as new technologies are developed. There is a fine line, and the line, at the early stages, is really based on your intentions of what they are to be used for as opposed to necessarily what they are. So the question of what is life seems to change, I think, in people’s minds based on what their concerns are or their own interests are in how we might use whatever it is we are producing.{15}

What Professor Robl calls for is an entirely utilitarian ethic. We define life, he says, based solely on what new technologies we develop. If a new technology, such as cloning or human stem cell production from human embryos becomes available, yet this technology threatens human dignity, we simply redefine human life to encompass the new technology. This is the frightening specter of a brave new world. We must oppose it and we must articulate why.

Notes

1. Vittorio Sgaramella and Norton D. Zinder, “Letters,” Science 279, 30 January 1998, 635-636.
2. J. Madeleine Nash, “Was Dolly a mistake?” Time, 2 March 1998, 65.
3. D. Ashworth, M. Bishop, K. Campbell, A. Colman, A. Kind, A. Schnieke, S. Blott, H. Griffin, C. Haley, J. McWhir, and I. Wilmut, “DNA microsatellite analysis of Dolly” Nature 394, 23 July 1998, 329. E. Signer, Y. Dubrova, A. Jeffreys, C. Wilde, L. M. B. Finch, M. Wells, and M. Peaker “DNA Fingerprinting Dolly” Nature 394, 23 July 1998, 329-330.
4. Davor Soltor, “Dolly is a Clone–And No Longer Alone” Nature 394, 23 July 1998, 315-316.
5. T. Wakayama, A. C. F. Perry, M. Zucotti, K. R. Johnson, and R. Yanagimachi, “Full-term Development of Mice from Enucleated Oocytes Injected with Cumulus Cell Nuclei” Nature 394, 23 July 1998, 369-374.
6. Rachel K. Sobel, “Copying a Multitude of Mice: Cloning is No Fluke; Wooly Mammoths Next?” U. S. News and World Report, 3 August 1998, 52.
7. Ian Wilmut, “Cloning for Medicine” Scientific American 279, no. 6 (December 1998): 58-63.
8. James A. Thomason, J. Itskovitz-Eldor, S. Shapiro, M. Waknitz, J. Swiergiel, V. Marshall, and J. Jones. “Embryonic Stem Cell Lines Derived from Human Blastocysts” Science 282, 6 November 1998, 1145-1147.
9. Declan Butler, “Breakthrough Stirs US Embryo Debate” Nature, 396, 12 November 1998, 104.
10. Ibid.
11. Dr. Richard Seed, Quoted on the Fox News Channel program, Trends, 8 December 1997.
12. http://www.boston.com/dailynews/wirehtml/250/Chicago_physicist_says_he_ll_clone_.shtml. 9/8/98.
13. Dr. Richard Seed, Quoted on ABC News Nightline, 7 January 1998.
14. James Robl, Quoted in The Cloning Revolution, Films for the Humanities and Sciences (1998), Box 2053, Princeton, NJ 08543-2053.

© 1999 Probe Ministries International




The Little Lamb That Made a Monkey of Us All

Like many others, I was caught totally flat-footed, astonished by the announcement of the successful cloning of an adult sheep, Dolly. Caught so unaware, in fact, that Probe is re-airing my three-year-old program on human cloning the week of March 17-21, 1997, because so little had changed. When the announcement of a successful sheep cloning was made, it was too late to pull the program from the schedule; tapes had already been sent to all the radio stations and there just wasn’t time to replace it in only three weeks. Consequently (and spurred by a number of phone calls and e-mails from around the country), I have compiled a few thoughts and comments regarding scientific and moral considerations about this historic breakthrough to temporarily plug the gap.

Scientific Considerations

Normal mammary cells were intentionally starved of critical growth nutrients in order to allow the cells to reach a dormant stage of the normal cell cycle. This process of bringing the cells into dormancy apparently allows the cell’s DNA to be reprogrammed by the proteins already in the egg cell for renewed cell division and new cell functions. The cells were fused with an enucleated egg cell (a cell that had its nucleus removed) and stimulated to begin cell division by an electric pulse.

The process was inefficient. Out of 277 cell fusions, 29 began growing in vitro. All 29 were implanted in receptive ewes, 13 became pregnant, and only one lamb was born as a result. This is a success rate of only 3.4%. In nature, somewhere between 33 and 50% of all fertilized eggs develop fully into newborns.

The procedure was very non-technical, and no one is really sure why it worked. It needs to be repeated. All attempts to clone mouse cells from adults have failed. Some suggest that sheep embryos do not employ the DNA in the nucleus until after 3-4 cell divisions. This may give the egg cell sufficient time to reprogram the DNA from mammary cell functions to egg cell functions. Human and mouse cells employ the nuclear DNA after the second cell division. Human and mouse cells may not be capable of being cloned because of this difference.

The purpose of these experiments was to find a more effective way to reproduce genetically engineered sheep for the production of pharmaceuticals. A sheep embryo can be engineered to produce a certain human protein or hormone in its milk. The human protein can then be harvested from the milk and sold on the market. Instead of trusting the somewhat unpredictable and time-consuming methods of normal animal husbandry to reproduce this genetic hybrid, cloning it assures that the engineered gene product will not be lost.

Genetic material is the same in all cells of an organism (except the reproductive cells, sperm and egg, which have only half the full complement), but differentiated cells are biochemically programmed to perform limited functions, and all other functions are turned off. Based on attempts in frogs and mice, most scientists felt that the reprogramming was impossible.

A critical question is the lifespan of Dolly. All cells have a built-in senescence or death after so many cell divisions. Dolly began from a cell that was already six years old. A normal lifespan for a ewe is around 11 years. Will Dolly live to see her seventh birthday?

It is also uncertain as to whether Dolly will be reproductively fertile. Frog clones are usually sterile.

Reprogramming the nucleus could lead to procedures to stimulate degenerating nerve cells to be replaced by newly growing nerve cells. Adults do not generate nerve cells normally.

Moral Considerations

Will humans be cloned for spare parts? While this is certainly possible, I consider it very unlikely that this would be sanctioned by any government. That doesn’t mean, however, that someone won’t try.

Will humans be cloned to replace a dying infant or child? This is certainly a possibility, but we need to ask if this is an appropriate way to deal with loss. Might unrealistic expectations be placed on a clone that would not be placed on a normally-produced child?

Will humans be cloned to produce children for otherwise childless couples? This is the most often-given reason for human cloning. This argument is unpersuasive when there are currently so many children that need adoption. Also, this further devalues children to the level of a commodity. If in vitro fertilization is expensive, cloning will be worse.

Will humans be cloned for vanity? Someone will certainly try.

Will human clones have a soul? In my mind, they will be no different from an identical twin or a baby that results from in vitro fertilization. How a single fertilized egg splits in two to become two individuals is a similar mystery.

Does cloning threaten genetic diversity? Excessive cloning may indeed deplete the genetic diversity of an animal population, leaving the population susceptible to disease and other disasters. But most biologists are aware of these problems, and I would not expect this to be a major concern unless cloning were the only means available to continue a species.

If the technique is perfected in animals first, will this save the tragic loss of fetal life that resulted from the early human experimentation with in vitro fertilization? In vitro fertilization was perfected in humans before it was known how effective a procedure it would be. This resulted in many wasted human beings in the embryonic stages. The success rate is still only 1 in 5 to 1 in 10; normal fertilization and implantation success rates are 2-3 times that. While animal models will help, there will be unique aspects to human development that can only be known and overcome by direct human experimentation which disrespects the sanctity of human life.

This provides a means for lesbians to have a child. One supplies the nucleus and the other provides the egg. The egg does contain some unique genetic material in the mitochondria that are not contributed by sperm or nucleus. One cell from each donor would be fused together to create a new individual, though all the nuclear genetic material comes from one cell. Sue Bohlin has an upcoming program on homosexual myths including gay marriage. This is no longer marriage as it is currently understood, and the technological hoops that must be jumped through for any gay couple to have children should be a clear warning that something is wrong with the whole arrangement.

Are human clones unique individuals? Even identical twins manage to forge their own identity. The same would be true of clones. In fact, this may argue strongly against the usefulness of cloning since you can never reproduce all the life experiences that have molded a particular personality. The genes will be the same, but the environment and the spirit will not.

All together, I find the prospect of animal cloning potentially useful. But I wonder if the procedure is as perfectible as some hope, and may end up being an inefficient process to achieve the desired result. Human cloning is fraught with too many possible difficulties, from the waste of human fetal life during research and development to the commercializing of human babies (see my previous cloning article) with far too little potential advantage to individuals and society. What there is to learn about embryonic development through cloning experiments can be learned through animal experimentation. The cloning of adult human beings is an unnecessary and unethical practice that should be strongly discouraged if not banned altogether.

 

© 1997 Probe Ministries




Can Humans Be Cloned Like Sheep?

Why Is Cloning So Difficult and How Did They Do It?

Like so many others I was caught totally flat-footed and astonished by the announcement of the successful cloning of an adult sheep, Dolly. A few years ago I aired a radio program on the prospects of human cloning and considerably downplayed the possibilities. Earlier this year, we here at Probe had decided to rebroadcast this program because little had changed. When the announcement about Dolly was made, it was too late to pull the program from the schedule as tapes had already been sent to all the radio stations, and there just wasn’t time to replace or update it. Consequently, I compiled a few thoughts and comments on this historic breakthrough and quickly made it available on our web site to temporarily plug the gap.

Subsequently, the article was featured on Christian Leadership’s web site, Leadership University (www.leaderu.com), and I started receiving numerous phone calls and e-mails as a result. This essay is now an updated and expanded version of that article to help us think through both the scientific and moral implications of this stunning achievement.

The genetic material is the same in all cells of an organism (except the reproductive cells, sperm and egg, which have only half the full complement of chromosomes). However, differentiated cells (liver cells, stomach cells, muscle cells, etc.) are biochemically programmed to perform limited functions and all other functions are turned off. Most scientists felt that the reprogramming was next to impossible based on cloning attempts in frogs and mice.

So what did the scientists in Scotland do that was successful? Well, they took normal mammary cells from an adult ewe and starved them (i.e., denied them certain critical growth nutrients) in order to allow the cells to reach a dormant stage. This process of bringing the cells into dormancy apparently allows the cells’ DNA to be deprogrammed. Apparently most if not all of the programming for specific functions of the mammary cells were turned off and the DNA made available for reprogramming. The starved mammary cells were then fused with an egg cell that had its nucleus removed. The egg cell was then stimulated to begin cell division by an electric pulse. Proteins already in the egg cell somehow altered the DNA from the mammary cell to be renewed for cell division and embryological functions.

As might be expected, the process was inefficient. Out of 277 cell fusions, 29 began growing as embryos in vitro or in the petri dish. All 29 were implanted into 13 receptive ewes, yet only one became pregnant. As a result of these efforts, one lamb was born. This translates to a success rate of only 3.4%, and the success rate is even less (.36%), when you calculate using the 277 initial cell fusions attempted. In nature, on the other hand, somewhere between 33 and 50% of all fertilized eggs develop fully into newborns.

Altogether the procedure was rather non-technical, and no one is really sure why it worked. The experiments still need to be repeated. Previously, all attempts to clone mice from adult cells have failed. But clearly, an astounding breakthrough has been made. You can be sure that numerous labs around the world will be attempting to repeat these experiments and trying the technique on other mammalian species. Can this procedure be done with humans? Should we try it with humans? I’ll be dealing with these questions later in this discussion.

Why Clone Anything?

Before proceeding to deal with the question of human cloning, a more basic concern needs to be addressed. Some, for example, may be asking, “Why would anyone want to clone anything in the first place, but especially sheep?”

The purpose of these experiments was to find a more effective way to reproduce already genetically engineered sheep for production of pharmaceuticals. Sheep can be genetically engineered to produce a certain human protein or hormone in its milk. The human protein can then be harvested from the milk and sold on the market. This is accomplished by taking the human gene for the production of this protein or hormone and inserting it into an early sheep embryo. Hopefully the embryo will grow into a sheep that will produce the protein.

This is not a certainty, and while the process may improve, it will never be perfect. Mating the engineered sheep is also not foolproof because even mating with another genetically engineered sheep may result in lambs that have lost the inserted human gene and cannot produce the desired protein. Therefore, instead of trusting the somewhat unpredictable and time-consuming methods of normal animal husbandry to reproduce this genetic hybrid, cloning more directly assures that the engineered gene product will not be lost.

There may be other benefits to cloning technology. Reprogramming the nucleus of other cells, such as nerve cells, could lead to procedures to stimulate degenerating nerve cells to be replaced by newly growing nerve cells. Nerve cells in adults do not ordinarily regenerate or reproduce. This could have important implications for those suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

If the process can actually be perfected to the extent that production costs are reduced and the quality of the eventual product is improved, then this would be a legitimate research goal. The simplicity of the technique, though still inefficient, makes this plausible. But there are still questions that need to be answered.

One critical question concerns the lifespan of Dolly. All cells have a built in senescence or death after so many cell divisions. Dolly began with a cell from a ewe that was already six years old. A normal lifespan for a ewe is around 11 years. Will Dolly live to see her seventh birthday? Actually most cell divisions are used up during embryological development. Dolly’s cells may peter out even earlier. This is critical because a 10-year-old sheep is considered elderly, and lambing and wool production decline in sheep after their seventh year. My guess though is that since Dolly’s genes were reprogrammed from mammary cell functions to embryological functions, that the senescence clock was also reset back to the beginning. I expect Dolly to live a normal lifespan.

It is also uncertain as to whether Dolly will be reproductively fertile. Frogs cloned from tadpole cells are usually sterile. It is possible that while Dolly is normal anatomically, the cloning process may somehow interfere with the proper development of the reproductive cells. If this were the case, there may be other problems not immediately detectable. This will be answered this summer when Dolly reaches sexual maturity.

Can We Clone Humans?

While we have established that animal cloning may be permissible and even scientifically useful, what about cloning humans? First of all, is it feasible? Secondly, just because we can do it, should we? Should we even try?

At this point it is reasonable to assume that because the procedure works with sheep and possibly with cattle (the experiments with cattle are already underway), it should be perfectible with humans. This does not mean, however, that there may not be unique barriers to cloning humans as opposed to cloning sheep.

Some suggest that by using the particular procedure developed by the researchers in Scotland, sheep may be easier to clone. The reason is that sheep embryos do not employ the DNA in the nucleus until after 3 to 4 cell divisions. This may give the egg cell sufficient time to reprogram the DNA from mammary cell functions to egg cell functions. Human and mouse cells employ the nuclear DNA after only the second cell division. This may be why similar experiments have not worked in mice. Therefore, human cells and mouse cells may not be capable of being cloned because of this difference.

If this barrier does indeed exist, it is not necessarily insurmountable. The news of a cloned sheep was surprising enough that no one, including me, is now going to step out on the same sawed-off limb and predict that it can’t eventually work with humans. I mentioned earlier that the procedure is so startlingly non-technical that there are numerous laboratories around the world that could immediately begin their own cloning research program with a minimum of investment and expertise. While I fully expect that many labs will begin studies on cloning other mammalian species besides sheep, I’m not so sure about humans.

In 1993, researchers here in the United States employed well known techniques to artificially twin human embryos. They immediately became embroiled in a firestorm of public scrutiny that they did not anticipate nor enjoy (see my earlier article, “Human Cloning: Have Human Beings Been Cloned?”). They were even criticized by other researchers in the field for jumping ahead without scrutinizing the ethical ramifications. The public reaction was no doubt very sobering to the rest of the scientific community. Many countries have already either completely banned experimentation in human cloning or at least imposed a temporary moratorium so that the ethical questions can be properly investigated before stepping ahead. Even the researchers in Scotland responsible for Dolly have plainly stated that they see no reason to pursue human cloning and are personally repulsed by the idea.

There are some in the scientific community, however, who feel that the ability to do something is reason enough to do it. But in this case, I believe that they are the minority. For example, molecular biologists imposed a moratorium of their own in the 70s when genetic technology was first being developed until critical questions could be answered. Also, while nuclear weapons have been produced for over 50 years, only two have been used and that was 52 years ago. Many are now being dismantled. These cases show us that human restraint, though rare, is possible.

So while it is reasonable to believe that humans can be cloned, and that someone, somewhere may try, the overall climate is so against it that I don’t think we will see it announced anytime soon.

Why Clone Humans?


Overall, the public reaction has been negative toward cloning human beings, and this is rather curious in a culture that is admittedly post-Christian in orientation. Nevertheless, many people still want to draw a distinction between animals and humans.

As Christians we understand this desire because we assert that humans are made in the image of God and that animals are not. There is, therefore, a clear demarcation between animals and humans. But in an evolutionary view, humans are nothing special–just another animal species. The expected reaction was offered by an editorial in the Dallas Morning News (Monday, 3 March 1997, 9D) by Tom Siegfried which he titled: “It’s hard to see a reason why a human Dolly is evil.” He summarized his perspective when he said, “The ability to clone is part of gaining deeper knowledge of life itself. So Dolly should not be seen as scary, but as a signal that life still conceals many miracles for humans to discover.” To the naturalist, any knowledge is valuable, and the means to obtain it is justified essentially by its benefit to society.

With this in mind, let’s explore some of the reasons why people have suggested that human cloning is a worthwhile proposition and deal with some of the questions people are asking.

Concerns About Human Cloning

There is much that can be learned about human embryonic development by researching human cloning. While this is true, this is precisely the reasoning used by Nazi Germany to justify experimentation on Jews. Experiments were performed on exposure to cold, water, and other extreme conditions with human subjects, frequently to the point of death, because data on human subjects was deemed indispensable. Of course, we know now that animal models work just as well; consequently, there is no need to use human models to gain this type of data.

Will humans be cloned for spare parts? A few writers have suggested that some individuals may want to establish an embryonic clone to be frozen and put away. Then, in the event of a childhood disease requiring a transplant, the embryo can be thawed, implanted in a surrogate, and raised to a sufficient age for the spare organ to be harvested and transplanted. While this is certainly possible, I consider it very unlikely that these practices would be sanctioned by any government because it completely tosses aside the uniqueness of humanity and trashes the concept of human dignity. That doesn’t mean, however, that someone won’t try.

Will human cloning be used to replace a dying infant or child? This is certainly a possibility, but we need to ask if taking such a course of action is an appropriate way to deal with loss. Unrealistic expectations may be placed on a clone that would not be placed on a normally produced child. The cloned child may be the same genetically, but different in other respects. This could create more frustration than comfort.

Will humans be cloned to provide children for otherwise childless couples? This is the reason most often given for human cloning, yet the argument is unpersuasive when there are so many children that need adoption. Also, this devalues children to the level of a commodity. Also, if in vitro fertilization seems expensive at $5,000-8,000 a try, cloning will be more so.

Will human clones have souls? In my mind, they will be no different than an identical twin or a baby that results from in vitro fertilization. How a single fertilized egg splits in two to become two individuals is a similar mystery, but it happens.

Does cloning threaten genetic diversity? Excessive cloning may indeed deplete the genetic diversity of an animal population, leaving the population susceptible to disease and other disasters. But most biologists are aware of these problems, and I would not expect this to be a major concern unless cloning were the only means available to continue a species.

If the technique is perfected in animals first, will this save the tragic loss of fetal life that resulted from the early human experimentation with in vitro fertilization? In vitro fertilization was perfected in humans before it was known how effective a procedure it would be. This resulted in many wasted human beings in the embryonic stages. The success rate is still only 10 to 20%. The success rate of normal fertilization and implantation is around 33 to 50%. While animal models will help, there will be unique aspects to human development that can only be known and overcome by direct human experimentation which does not respect the sanctity of human life.

Cloning provides a means for lesbians to have children as a couple. One supplies the nucleus and the other provides the egg. The egg does contain some unique genetic material in the mitochondria that are not contributed by sperm or nucleus. One cell from each partner is fused together to create a new individual, though all the nuclear genetic material comes from only one cell. The real question is whether this is the proper environment for any child to grow up in. (For more information on this topic, see Sue Bohlin’s essay, “Homosexual Myths.”) Homosexual “marriages” are not really marriages in the normal understanding of the term, and the technological hoops that must be jumped through for any gay couple to have children should be a clear warning that something is wrong with the whole arrangement.

Are human clones unique individuals? Even identical twins manage to forge their own identity. The same would be true of clones. In fact, this may argue strongly against the usefulness of cloning since we can never reproduce all the life experiences that have molded a particular personality. The genes will be the same, but the environment and the spirit will not.

All together, I find the prospect of animal cloning potentially useful. But I wonder if the procedure is as perfectible as some hope. It may end up being an inefficient process to achieve the desired result. Human cloning is fraught with too many possible difficulties, from the waste of human fetal life during research and development to the commercializing of human babies (see my previous Human Cloning article) with far too little potential advantage to individuals and society. What there is to learn about embryonic development through cloning experiments can be learned through animal experimentation. The cloning of adult human beings is an unnecessary and unethical practice that should be strongly discouraged if not banned altogether.

©1997 Probe Ministries