The ultimate biological impact of cloning is still a topic of debate among most scientists and medical professionals. While cloning technology is still too new to accurately predict its long-term implications, many different groups and advocates hold their own opinions on how the human race will be affected by the advent of cloning technology.
What is Cloning?
Cloning is the artificial creation of genetically identical organisms through scientific manipulation. Clones are created by extracting an egg from an organism and implanting DNA from a live adult into the egg. The egg becomes fused to the adult genetic material through the application of an electrical current rather than through contact with the sperm of a male subject. The egg is now an exact genetic replica of the single adult whose DNA was fused with the egg rather than being the combination of genetic material between two parent organisms.
Currently, the primary benefit of cloning is the regeneration of lost limbs or organs. This practice is called "therapeutic cloning" and involves the growing of tissues, cells or organs to be used for healing the sick. If a person becomes ill with a disease that attacks or destroys a certain type of cell or tissue, it may be possible to grow new tissue from an genetic sample taken straight from the patient. If a patient's own healthy tissue can be artificially reproduced and then used as a transplant to replace the infected or damaged tissue, then, theoretically, that person could be healed. Doctors and surgeons have been preforming organ transplants for years. One of the major problems with these transplants, however, is that no two people are biologically alike. There have been many instances in which a transplant recipient's body has failed to bond with the replacement organ and the transplant effectively fails. If an organ or tissue could be grown from the patients own healthy tissue, then the patient's body should have no difficultly in accepting the transplant. New healthy tissue would bond instantly with the existing tissue and should function normally.
One of the most profound possible impacts of cloning on human biology is evolution. Cloning is an inherently asexual means of reproduction. This means that reproduction occurs without two distinct parental units sexually combining DNA to produce an offspring. Some scientists and activists who oppose cloning believe that if reproduction through cloning becomes a normal and common means of reproduction, humans or other cloned species will cease to naturally adapt to changing environmental needs. The primary fear is that scientists will find a way to replicate the most desirable traits of any organism and be able to transplant those traits artificially into offspring, thereby bypassing the normal exchange of biological data. Rather than an offspring being a combination of both parents genetic information, offspring will be customized to suit a pre-determined genetic template. eventually a species that is subjected to this form of genetic manipulation would lose its innate ability to adapt.
Clone Health Concerns
One of the major obstacles of human cloning has been the inability to create a healthy clone. Though animals such as sheep have successfully been cloned, each subject had experienced severe health issues. Most of these occur as a result of "gene expression." While the DNA used to create the clones may be intact, it takes perfect coordination among thousands of genes to create a complex life form. The biological process involved in all of these genes to come together in perfect cohesion and form a fully functioning organism is so complicated and involves such precise timing of cell mutations and coupling that there is an enormous potential for things to go wrong.
Due to the current problems with producing a healthy clone, U.S. medical and scientific associations have advised against human reproductive cloning, according to the Human Genome Project Information website. Most cloned embryos used in experiments on animals die in the early stages of development. Many of those that do survive long enough to be implanted into an organism spontaneously abort some time during pregnancy. Most clones that survive birth die soon after from complications or have physical abnormalities that impair function. Until these problems can be resolved through further study and experimentation on animals, scientists may not explore the possibility of human reproductive cloning. Other concerns regarding human cloning are the mental or emotional impact such practices would have on human subjects. In addition to redefining cultural understandings of family and reproduction, the impact on the cloned subject may be devastating. As it is extremely difficult to verify the emotional or psychological well being of an animal, there is no way to be certain how cloning has affected them. This leaves scientists with no way to predict how it would affect a human clone.