SUNY at Buffalo
The setting is a small college's biology class where only three students out of twenty students have come to class because it is the last day before spring break begins. The three students' names are Andy, Kristen, and Eric. Seeing only three students in the class, the professor changes his lecture material into a class discussion involving the recent scientific breakthrough in the field of cloning. During the discussion, the professor explains how the cloning of a sheep named Dolly was done. In addition, the students and the professor share their views on the advantageous and the detrimental side of cloning either humans or animals.Professor: Good morning class! I am sure that you all have heard about the recent scientific discovery in the process of cloning. If not, allow me to fill you in on this current controversial scientific discovery. Last week, a Scottish scientist named Dr. Ian Wilmut from the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, successfully cloned an adult sheep. I said adult sheep because scientists already have the ability to clone sheep and calves, for farming purposes, from undifferentiated embryonic cells. Is there any questions so far?My personal opinions on this cloning issue are basically that cloning should be strictly done on animals only and not on humans because of two main reasons. The first reason being that many ethical and moral problems will surface once a human is cloned, like will the clones ever be treated like a normal human being since they are already judged from their appearances right from when they are born. As for my second reason, we do not need an overpopulation problem and more war on earth because some small country will probably produce thousands of specialized clones, like for military purposes in the near future.
Kristen: Um, yes, professor. Would you please elaborate on the term undifferentiated cell? Also, the word cloning sounds like something you would hear from science fiction movies or novels--isn't the cloning process very complicated?
Professor: To answer your first question, Kristen, an undifferentiated cell is a cell that has the ability to create other specific cells, such as skin, hair, brain, and muscles, as it activates certain genes on chromosomes. For your second question, the concept of cloning is really not that complicated to understand. Allow me to explain as I split Dr. Wilmut's cloning process into three steps. During the first step, udder cells from a six-year-old Finn Dorset ewe were taken and placed into a culture dish. The culture dish, containing low levels of nutrients, starved the cells, causing them to stop their dividing and hibernate its active genes. Meanwhile, the nucleus with its DNA from an unfertilized egg--also called an oocyte--taken from a Scottish Blackface ewe, is sucked out with a hair thin pipette, leaving the empty egg with all its cellular tools needed to produce an embryo. By the way, this process is called the nuclear transfer. Okay, now onto the second step; the egg cell and a donor cell are placed next to each other and fused together, like soap bubbles, by an electric pulse. Then a second generated electric pulse activated the natural fertilization process in the fused cell as the process of cell division is initiated. Finally, during the third step, the fused cell (embryo) is implanted into a different Blackface ewe's uterus after about six days. Then, "after a gestation period, the pregnant Blackface ewe gives birth to a baby Finn Dorset lamb, named Dolly, that is genetically identical to the original donor." (Time, p.65 March 10, 1997) This discovery is ... yes, Andy, you have a question?
Andy: Please excuse me, professor, but I remember from reading somewhere about how scientists for the past years have tried unsuccessfully to clone mice. So, I am curious about whether there have been any other unsuccessful adult cloning experiments done in the past? I also wonder what went wrong with the failed cloning experiment as compared to Dr. Wilmut's successful experiment.
Professor: Very interesting questions Andy! To answer your first question on past cloning, I can only think of one off the top of my head right now. Back in the eighties, developmental biologists in the Health Science Department at Allegheny University managed to raise a cluster of lively tadpoles from the red blood cells of an adult frog. Their cloning experiment came very close to being successful, but all the tadpoles died midway through metamorphosis. What caused the tadpoles to die? Well, the answer to this question and to Andy's second question lies in the increasing chromosomal abnormalities inside the transplanted nuclei as the development mode is initiated.
Andy: Professor, I've come upon through the phrase chromosomal abnormalities in newspapers a lot recently on cloning attempts. I understand that chromosomal abnormalities cause birth defects such as a missing limb. However, I am very curious about what exactly causes chromosomal abnormalities.
Professor: Well, Andy, chromosomal abnormalities are caused when a non-diploid phase called S or G2 in the donor's cell cycle combines with the diploid metaphase 11-arrested oocyte--because the non-diploid phase is not compatible with the diploid phase, as additional DNA replication and condensation of premature chromosomes forms. In Dr. Wilmut's experiment, he managed to overcome this problem by starving the donor cells in a culture dish while they were in the diploid GO phase of the donor's cell cycle; because this reduces chromosomal abnormalities as better timing in the process of DNA replication occurs with the oocyte and donor's cell. Are there any comments before I sum up Dr. Wilmut's cloning success?
Eric: Yes, professor. I have been following the cloned sheep issue very closely on the Internet and I think there is just one thing you missed about the cloned sheep. Just two days ago I read on the Net that another reason why Dr. Wilmut successfully cloned a sheep was because the sheep had a later transcription stage, 8 to 16 cell stage, which gave the sheep embryo more time to eliminate abnormalities as it reprograms the donor cell's nucleus.
Kristen: I think it is interesting to note that I read about a cloning article in last week's TIME magazine which said Dr. Wilmut did not successful clone the sheep during his first try. In fact, TIME noted that in Dr. Wilmut's experiment, out of 277 sheep cloning embryos tries, 29 embryos survived beyond six days and later only one embryo survived at the end to be born. And that born embryo is the sheep named Dolly.
Eric: I have just one more comment to add. From the CNN interactive website on the Net, I also learned that scientists have recently grown monkeys from cloned embryos, my point being that this achievement takes us another step closer to the controversial thought of cloning ourselves.
Andy: Yeah, I heard about the monkey story, too. However, CNN later noted that the two cloned rhesus monkies were not from the same embryo. Thus, they are not genetically identical. However, I do agree with you, Eric, that the cloning of the monkey's embryo leads us another step closer to cloning ourselves.
Professor: Excellent information, class! Now to sum up my introduction to the subject of cloning; this first successful cloning of a sheep from an adult sheep is very significant because, thanks to Mr. Wilmut, scientists know it is possible now for an adult cell to convert back to its embryonic stage and to produce a replica of the cell's donor. Thus, I wonder what are your view points on cloning animals or even on humans. Do you guys think cloning in the future will benefit or hurt mankind?
Andy: Well, professor, I personally think that cloning in the future will benefit mankind and there are two reasons just off the top of my head. The first reason is simply that I think people can bring their dead loved ones or pets back as the same person through cloning!
Professor: I would like to comment on your first reason of bringing dead loved ones or pets back, Andy, because this is a false thought. Currently, it is theoretically possible to clone humans but one cannot simply bring back his or her dead loved ones with the same personalities and thoughts. This deceptive thought is often in the general population's mind when they hear the word cloning. If dead loved ones are cloned successfully, their personality will definitely not be the same since the environment they are raised in will be completely different. Most important of all, the cloned individual will have a mind of its own that is different from its dead counterpart. Thus, a cloned individual will be identical genetically but not in its own intuitions and needs.
Andy: Hmm ... now I am a bit confused, professor. I always thought that a cloned individual would think the same and act very similar. Are you saying that if I cloned myself before I was about to die, my clone would not grow up with the same personality as me? Can you please give me an example to illustrate your point, professor?
Professor: Exactly, Andy. Your clone would not have the same exact personality as you. As for your example, let us take the basketball player Michael Jordan. If Mr. Jordan cloned himself, his clone, twenty-four years later, would most likely not be as good as him and might not even be athletic at all! The reason being, again, that the clone would be raised up in a whole different lifestyle and environment.
Andy: Thanks, professor. As for my second reason, I heard by combining the existing gene targeting technology with this new cloning methods, the scientists in drug companies can genetically engineer and rapidly mass produce animals with human proteins in their blood or in their milk. Thus, the price in pharmaceutical products, like human proteins, will decline drastically and be made available to more people in need--because human proteins are very scarce and even more expensive than gold! I know this, because one of my cousin has hemophilia and human proteins are the most promising antidote to it.
Kristen: I think I have good news for your cousin, Andy. I remember reading in USA TODAY that Dr. Wilmut and a biotechnology company called PPL Therapeutics are currently working to integrate a protein called clotting factor 8, which most hemophiliacs lack, into the sheep for mass production. If this integration is successful, hemophiliacs won't need blood transfusions anymore and won't have to worry about getting infected with the HIV virus.
Eric: As for my view on cloning, I think it will harm mankind in the future. If people clone themselves, there will be more complicated issues to resolve. Issues such as what about the feelings of the clones when they find out they are a Xeroxed copy of someone else? I think the truth will be devastating to the clone--it would be like someone now who finds out that they were abandoned as a child and got adopted. They often go through this emotional roller coaster ride, the results of which may be long-term depression, withdrawal, and even suicide.
Andy: With so much cloning news and information flowing around for the past few weeks, I wonder what countries have actually banned cloning procedures on humans because I heard a lot of talks about it.
Eric: Well, Andy, so far Scotland and the Vatican government have banned any further human cloning research in their countries. In addition, the Pope has spoken out against human cloning as he said it is against God's will. President Clinton also assigned a staff of people to investigate the ethics of human cloning and has banned the use of federal funds for such experimentation.
Kristen: Hey, Eric, didn't also the World Health Organization of the United Nations called human cloning unethical and suggested banning it?
Eric: Thanks, Kristen for filling me in. However, it is also important to note that the World Health Organization did favor other cloning procedures that lead to a cure for cancer and other diseases. So, I guess the World Health Organization favors cloning as long as it does not involve humans.
Kristen: Excuse me, professor, I wonder just how close the cloned sheep, Dolly, resembles its original, genetically speaking. Is it really genetically identical in every aspect?
Professor: Hmm ... very good question Kristen! All I can say is that Dolly and its original are most likely not similar genetically for reasons I am not sure of right now. Maybe Eric can help me answer this one since he has been following this cloning issue very closely on the Net. Eric?
Eric: Yes, professor, I think I can provide an answer to Kristen's answer. I remember chatting with this embryologist on-line about this question and he told me that one difference is in the immune system. The cloned sheep's immune system is not fully developed as its encoding gene continues to recombine to make T-cells and antibodies after fertilization.
Andy: I just thought about another advantage to cloning. Just image how many happy farmers there will be when they know that their livestock production can be maximized by cloning. For example, if a chicken named Stumpy laid an average of five eggs more than every other chicken in the barn, then the farmer can just clone as many Stumpy's as he or she wants for maximum egg production and profit!
Eric: However, I think there is going to be a problem to your idea, Andy. What happens if Stumpy and its clones are vulnerable to a disease that other chickens are not? The result would be devastating to the farmer who raises Stumpy clones since they probably would all get sick and die from the disease.
Kristen: I think I have a solution to this problem. Why not have the farmer have several different kinds of cloned chickens in the barn by trading his own cloned chicken with other farmers nearby or through a nationally set up program.
Andy: Being someone who likes nature a lot, I also think cloning can help to prevent extinction of species on the endangered lists right now. Although this process probably won't be easy to perform --I can imagine scientists having a very hard time trying to clone a certain kind of endangered whale.
Kristen: I would like to add one comment to Andy's thought. Didn't the professor say that Dr. Wilmut finally succeeded in cloning the sheep after 277 embryo tries? Thus, I don't think you can save all the endangered species as the scientists would probably need a lot of females to implant the artificially combined embryo in.
Eric: I think another reason why cloning will not benefit mankind overall is if people did clone themselves, those people will most likely be the richest only, since this process probably will cost a lot of money. In addition, if something goes wrong with the clones, such as deformation when it is born, it will contribute to more problems in society today such as the abortion issue.
Kristen: You have a point there, Eric, in the concept of society having more problems to deal with. For example, the government will probably have to painstakingly make numerous new laws just for the clones to ensure their equality among us. However, I doubt the laws for the clones will make their lifestyles just like ours because, from experience, society tends to fear and discriminate against a certain group that they don't hear or see much about.
Andy: I just remembered an interesting article I read in USA TODAY about a week ago on the issue of cloning. The article talked about how a group of gay activists are pressing for more research on the process of human cloning. According to the group's spokesperson, they support human cloning because it is only way of surviving, since the discovery of a genetic basis for homosexuality would allow people to abort them in the fetus stage.
Professor: Interesting story, Andy. A thought came to my mind while listening to what you said. Do you realize that if cloning is legalized, mankind's reproduction process will become both asexual and sexual? Females will have complete control over reproduction, since males are no longer needed for the reproduction process?
Andy: Wow, I never thought of it in that way. I wonder if man will become extinct then. I certainly hope not! Although the world will become a more peaceful place to live with fewer wars, since females tend to be less aggressive and more caring than males.
Kristen: Say, my uncle has been waiting for a liver transplant for two months now and I think cloning will help him by speeding up the waiting process. I heard that scientists now are able to grow human-like organs, such as the heart, lung, kidney, and liver, in pigs. So why not just clone those pigs with the successful human-like organs?!
Eric: Well, again Kristen, the scientist will probably have to face the problem of what happens if those organs from the same genetically cloned pigs are susceptible to a certain disease while in humans? I can just imagine hospitals nationwide having to announce mass recalls on organ transfer recipients.
Andy: Hey, Eric, why not just allow people to clone themselves early in life and use the clone later when needed for organ transplants? After all, an organ recipient's best chance of survival is finding someone with the same match.
Professor: I do not think you mean that, Andy, because how would you like it if someone told you that the only reason you were born was to be someone's transplant backup? This is just immoral and I would certainly be unfavorable to this practice.
Kristen: I agree with the professor, Andy. Even though you probably didn't mean it, your thought was a pretty selfish one. What happens if you need a heart transplant from your clone? Are you willing to kill another life only to prolong your own? Won't you feel any guilt?
Andy: You're right, professor and Kristen, and I share your views. Please excuse my thought earlier about cloning on humans. I guess the only reasons I am favoring cloning are to develop better and cheaper drugs and for the benefit of the farmers who could maximize their livestock output and profit.
Professor: Yes indeed, Andy, cloning will be a great benefit to the drug researchers and to the hard working farmers. Oh, there is only five minutes left before the class ends. Let's give Eric and Kristen a chance to sum up their views on cloning.
Eric: Well, professor, I think cloning of humans should be banned because there are already enough unresolved problems in society today to create another big one. In addition, I do not think society is informed well enough about cloning.
Kristen: I agree with you, Eric. I think we should educate the public about cloning now to gradually ease them into facing the dilemma of human clones in the future. After all, experimentation on human cloning is inevitable since the technology has already arrived, and it is just up scientists to initiate this irreversible process in the history of mankind.
Professor: Okay, class, I am glad that we had such an interesting discussion and I hope you all learned something new about cloning from each other because I certainly did! Thanks for coming to class today and Eric, Kristen, and Andy ... I wish you all have a great and safe spring break!
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