Dolly the Sheep was a novelty; we now have ‘Novel Food Regulations’ so is the creation of a cloned Human Being getting closer?
The Ancient Greek word klon describes the way a new plant can be grown from a twig; a natural method of horticultural reproduction. The modern term ‘clone’ describes the method of artificially producing genetically identical organisms.
Whilst there have been various experiments going on for hundreds of years, it was when James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the ‘double helix’ (the twisted ladder structure) of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) in 1953 that a scientific milestone was marked.
Some 40 years after this discovery, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge was established as the British arm of the Human Genome Project to progress the work and development of DNA science.
The completion of the human DNA sequence was discovered in the spring of 2003.
The first successfully DNA produced animal was Dolly the Sheep whose existence was triumphantly revealed to the world in February 1997 when she was 7 months old. Dr Ian Wilmut, embryologist at the Roslin Institute said “it will enable us to study genetic diseases … and track down the mechanisms that are involved.”
This event was the springboard to raising public awareness and acceptance of the process, but 15 years later, are we any closer to agreeing with the artificial reproduction of organisms to meet our constant demands?
Dolly sadly suffered from respiratory problems and arthritis and was eventually put down in 2003.
But has the world of science reined in its desire to exploit new discoveries or has it now ventured into the commercial sphere where there will always be demand and a better return on their investment?
In August 2010 it was discovered that two bulls grown from the embryos of a cow cloned in America had entered the UK food chain. The bulls had not only sired 100 cows on the Scottish farm, but one of the bulls slaughtered in July 2009 was sold as beef to consumers.
American biotechnology companies clone cows extensively now for their higher milk and meat yield and in 2008, the US Food and Drug Administration stated milk and meat from cloned animals was safe for human consumption. To date, the UK government has not made any ruling.
There are now cloned cows, pigs, sheep and chickens; all of these animals have been created with a view to improving their usefulness in the human food chain.
But what about human cloning; if scientists can create animals why not humans?
In May 2005, Newcastle University removed genetic material from 11 human eggs and replaced it with the DNA from embryonic stem cells to clone a human embryo.
This technique is called somatic cell nuclear transfer and the crucial part of the procedure is to keep the time from when the egg is harvested to when it is ‘manipulated’ to within 15 minutes; the longest a human embryo has survived under these conditions is 5 days.
Supporters of the process say there are many benefits including learning how to fight disease and helping with infertility. This form of DNA science is called ‘therapeutic cloning’ and Edinburgh’s Centre for Regenerative Medicine has created brain tissue from patients suffering from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses.
Some of the discoveries include: the BRCA2 gene linked to increased risk of breast cancer that was discovered in 1992 and in 1993 the MSH2 gene linked to the increased risk of colon cancer was found.
The UN voted in favour of a ban on all human cloning but it was ‘non-binding’ so the UK continues to experiment with cloned embryos from which stem cells can be used to treat disease. However, ‘reproductive cloning’ was made illegal in the UK in 2001.
But some scientists remain unphased by public reaction and following the discovery in September 2012 of some mammoth hair, soft tissue and bone marrow in the Yakutia area of Siberia, the US based ‘X Prize Foundation’ has said they will award a “Jurassic Park Prize” to the first person who manages to recreate an extinct prehistoric animal. There is already talk of recreating Neanderthal Man. I can’t help but feel this ‘theme park’ attitude is devaluing any good that might have come out of the process.
Then in November 2012, Brazilian scientists started to work on the cloning of existing animals including jaguars, anteaters and wolves: their purpose to supply animals for zoos.
So there is no doubt that some scientists have seen the commercial value in cloning and are prepared to exploit the process for their own gains.
But when it was recently revealed that 4 sheep had been cloned from Dolly and were created in 2007 and the only reason it came to light was that Professor Campbell mentioned it during a European Parliamentary debate, you cannot help but question just what might be going on behind closed doors.
The preserved body of Dolly the Sheep is on display at the National Museum of Scotland, is it just a matter of time before one of the nationally acclaimed museums has preserved remains of the first humanoid on display?
Repugnant it may be, feasible and likely? Almost definitely.
Human Genome Project www.ornl.gov.
Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute www.sanger.ac.uk.