Human Cloning - Boon or Brinkmanship?

  Those who thought the creation of Dinosaurs from a mere drop of blood in the global blockbuster Jurassic Park was a pipe dream need to revise their opinion. If not Dinosaurs, any where up to 5000 special mice, goats, cows, sheep, pigs and rats are today roaming the world over. What is so special about them? They are not naturally born animals but artificially cloned by man with the help of genetic technology.

What is cloning?

It is like photocopying. The way we can make one or more photocopies of a page that looks exactly like the original, it is now possible to create another animal, or even a man or a woman, who looks exactly like the original.

There are two broad methods of cloning: the natural method and the adult DNA method. Natural cloning is as old as animal kingdom. The birth of twins is an example of natural cloning. Let us see how it works.

The female egg cell is fertilized by male sperm to form a fertilized egg. This fertilized egg starts multiplying, first into 2, then 4, 8, 16, 32 etc till a fetus is created. The fetus develops into a human being. Each of these cells that come out of the fertilized egg is complete in itself and is capable of developing into a human being. Normally these divided cells remain attached to each other and form just one fetus. But when one of them gets detached, it can develop into an identical twin.

It is now possible to do fertilization in a test tube outside the body, separate the cells, place one of them back in the mother’s womb and keep the rest in a refrigerator for future use either for the same mother or by implanting it in a surrogate mother whose body can be used like a factory. This procedure is being adopted to help childless couple to have children.

In the second method, the need of a male is not absolutely essential. A human being can be created by only a female. That is why it is sometimes called asexual method. Every cell has a nucleus that contains the genes. The composition of genes decides the look of a person, the colour of hair, height and so on.

In this method, the egg cell is taken out of the womb and placed in a dish; its nucleus is removed and discarded. The nucleus of a normal cell taken from anywhere else in the body, say leg or arm, either of the same person or anyone else is placed in the egg cell. This egg cell is then placed in the womb of either the same female or any other female and develops into a baby. It will look exactly like the person whose nucleus is implanted into the empty egg cell. It will have nothing in common with the so-called mother.

It is possible to use egg cell from any female animal, say a cow, to clone a man by placing the nucleus of a human’s cell inside the emptied egg and then implant it into the womb of any woman. The resultant clone will look like the donor of the nucleus.

Even though the procedure looks so simple, it is one of the most complex tasks in actual practice. Consider this: human genome has 3 billion base pairs of DNA that go to form 100,000 genes. If the information contained in one strand of gene were to be printed on paper, we would require seven lac pages. Out of crores of alphabets that will be printed, even if just one letter gets misprinted, the person may suffer from a major disease anywhere from anaemia to cancer.

The practical difficulties in cloning are mind-boggling. The famous Dolly sheep that was cloned in July, 1996 was the result of 277 attempts. Many of the 5000 or so cloned animals have heart defects, lung problems, malfunctioning of the immune system and other random errors. Some rats are so fat that they can hardly move. But scientists firmly believe that all teething problems will be sorted out in due course.

By making a few changes here and there it is possible to create a pig that will have human heart or liver or kidney exactly like the donor whose cell is used to fertilize the pig’s egg. If the person develops a heart disorder, the defective heart can be replaced with pig’s heart.

The benefits of the cloning technology are beyond anybody’s imagination. Among other things, it will be possible to cure once for all the most dreaded diseases such as Cancer, Paralysis and above all AIDS. Most diseases will disappear from the face of the earth. Ultimately a perfect man and woman will be created. Millions of clones of such perfect man and woman will live on earth. Even though there will be deaths but actually the clones of dead person will continue to live till eternity. Can one imagine this scenario?

But what about the horrors of cloning?

It will be possible to dispense with the entire male population of earth since babies can be created without his participation. A person’s son will not be actually a son but a duplicate self. Lesbians will have children. Diversity will be lost. Many religions believe that a soul is created when sperm fertilizes the female egg in the womb of the mother. If this is true all men and women will be soul-less? Do you want such a world?