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German biologist Hans Driesch discovered in 1885 that it was possible to clone early embryos using sea urchins. Driesch determined each cell in the early embryo has its own complete set of genetic instructions that would grow into a full organism. In 1902, Hans Spemann, using a salamander embryo (up until a certain stage of development), which he had “twinned” (split) – discovered that the two unique embryos, once split, comprised of their own DNA. His experiment revealed that embryos from a more complex animal could split to form multiple identical organisms. The first successful nuclear transfer from an early tadpole embryo into an enucleated (host egg nucleus removed) frog’s egg was accomplished in 1952 by Robert Briggs and Thomas King. However, the frogs grew abnormally. Science and biology continued to perfect cloning and in 1984 cloning resulted in the birth of three live lambs. In 1987, Prather and Eyestone successfully produced two live calves – Fusion and Copy. However, the cloned animals suffered various developmental complications.

Cloning hit the headlines in 1996 with dolly the sheep. Using an adult sheep’s udder cell, biologists Wilmut and Campbell transferred the nucleus from the udder cell into the enucleated egg. It did however take 277 attempts to produce an embryo that was carried to full term in a surrogate mother. At six years of age, cloned Dolly, diagnosed with an incurable lung tumor was subsequently euthanized. Fish, goats, ferrets, camels, coyote, deer, frogs, flies, mice, monkeys, rabbits, wolves, and pigs where also cloned successfully around the world.

Cloning in China operates on an industrial scale, BGI Group clone hundreds of pigs per year with a success rate of over 80%. In March this year, a team of researchers at the Nankai University China, announced the successful development of a fully automated robotic method of creating pig clones – without any human intervention. China is the leading pork consumer and producer worldwide, scientists at the Nankai University explore cloning as the answer to becoming self sufficient pork consumers and distributers.

21st Century cloning industry

Today, cloning services are flying off the shelves. The service is popular with clients wishing to clone their dogs, cats, farm animals, and horses. Genetics and cloning giant ViaGen in the United States offers a full suite of cloning services. Cloning costs start from $25,000.

Similarly, SinoGene, genetics located in China, for the right price, will clone your beloved pet, farm animal and horse. UK’s pet cloning service Gemini Genetics subcontract for ViaGen and they too offer UK customers a pet cloning service. Cloning is big business in the United States, and of the many wealthy individuals who have used a cloning service –  Barbra Streisand is one of them, having cloned her beloved pet dog – using the ViaGen service.

The same – but not the same

Cloning simply delivers a visual copycat of its host. The clone will have its own personality and mannerisms and so will therefore not produce a carbon copy of its host. The clone will grow and develop with its own uniqueness. When a human fertilized egg splits and produces two embryo’s – twins, the twins develop their own personalities, mannerisms and likes and dislikes. Cloning is a magnificent scientific breakthrough, combining technology and medicine to breath life under the most extraordinary circumstances. It can be invaluable should a species become threatened with extinction, so is cloning for any other purpose then, a vanity project? A criminal enterprise? Or Financial exploitation?

Ethical and moral dilemma  

Genetic and synthetic engineering will save lives. We will beat cancer and other diseases, find new ways to overcome economic and agricultural challenges, and even eradicate chronic illnesses. People will live longer, our diets will change, cost of living may reduce and the way with which we interact with AI will cross new boundaries. However, where there is power, there is abuse of power. Much like most technology, there are those who will exploit it.

Pandora’s box has burst open, but we are yet to learn about the depth and breadth of how cloning may be utilized by governments, the rich and crooked, and anyone else with vested interests. In 2019, He Jiankui announced the birth of twin girls (a third girl was born later that year). Jiankui engineered mutations in the twin embryo’s – successfully modifying their genes. He claims to have disabled a gene called CCR5 which encodes a protein that allows HIV to enter cells. Jiankui allegedly used forged ethics review documents during recruitment of participants and swapped blood samples to bypass laws against allowing people with HIV to use assisted reproductive technologies. What is the human cost in the name of science and medicine?

What will be the consequences of a genetically modified society? Will we engineer a genetically modified army? Some scientists argue gene’s play a role in empathy. What happens when the empathy gene is identified and ‘disabled’ at embryonic level producing possible sociopathic/psychopathic individuals? What other gene mutations have scientists experimented with that may have societal adverse consequences?

Whilst therapeutic cloning involves research into stem cells from humans for the use of medicine and transplants, it is not currently an area of medical practice. Reproductive cloning is illegal – allegedly. In 2002, South Korea launched a criminal investigation into the human cloning practices (first human clone born in 2002 – Eve) by a company called Clonaid. Clonaid an American-based company are still actively offering reproductive cloning for their clients and the outcome of the investigation in 2002 is not clear. More on human cloning and Cloneaid.