Preserving human life or the threat of mass extinction: here are both sides of the argument surrounding human cloning.
Clones, human or otherwise, are genetically identical copies of a living organism produced artificially in a laboratory. Over the years, many animals have been cloned. Starting from the cloning of a tadpole in 1952 to the cloning of a sheep named Dolly from adult mammal cells in 1996, cloning has come a long way.
When it comes to human cloning, we are getting closer and closer to the possibility of creating human replicas. Technology, such as Elon Musk’s Neuralink, might make it possible to, one day, create a virtual clone from all our memories. But the same cannot be said about our bodies, at least not yet. While there have been attempts to clone human embryos, none have emerged successful yet. Not only are there technological challenges, but there are a lot of ethical factors associated with cloning. Here is a detailed look at the benefits of cloning and why scientists might be wary of the idea despite them.
Pros of human cloning
Creating organs for transplants
The first major advantage of successful human cloning would be the ease of conducting organ transplants. In fact, the ongoing embryo cloning experiments are largely to this effect. If a person suffering from organ failure has an embryo clone of themselves, then cells from this clone could generate organs that would perfectly match the original. This could help bring patients back from the brink of death.
Treating genetic defects
No one is born perfect; it is estimated that an average person has 400 defects in their genes, and some of these might be associated with diseases. This includes conditions such as Hemophilia (where blood doesn’t clot normally) and cystic fibrosis (where organs absorb too much sodium and water). These conditions can be effectively dealt with by human cloning. A couple with a genetic condition in their family history could produce an embryo through in-vitro fertilization (where the egg is fertilized in a lab) and screen it for genetic abnormalities. Then, stem cells from this embryo would be taken and used to correct abnormalities via genetic engineering. The corrected cells could be placed inside a new clone embryo that would be identical to the original but without genetic issues.
Removing barriers to fertility
Cloning can serve as a blessing to those unable to have children, be it same-sex couples or couples struggling with fertility problems. Cloning not only allows couples to have children but also makes it possible to genetically modify the child so they have the traits of both parents.
Cons of human cloning
Lack of DNA diversity
The issues with animal and plant cloning give us a fair idea of the downsides of creating human clones. The first is that cloning takes away genetic diversity, which could make a child more susceptible to a range of issues. This includes cancer, genetic malfunction and shortened lifespan. Although cloning can be used to treat genetic disorders, it can end up perpetuating them as well. So, multiple copies of a person with genetic issues could even lead to the complete extinction of a species.
The process of cloning is also extremely complex. For instance, it took 277 tries to successfully clone the sheep, Dolly, that we had discussed earlier. Even after the clone was successfully created, it died of a rare lung disease at the age of six (less than half the age a sheep typically lives to).
Another major concern with human cloning is the risk of premature aging. Every human being has a substance called telomere that protects their DNA. Every time the cell divides, these telomeres become shorter and shorter, eventually reaching a point where the cells will stop regenerating. Thus, if an adult’s stem cells are used in the cloning process, then the resulting clone might age quickly.
Of course, we cannot gloss over the ethical implications of creating life through cloning. Artificially creating life and destroying it after its role (for creating organs) is objectionable to some. That, as well as the health risks of cloning, is probably why 46 countries across the world, including Japan, South Korea, France and Germany, have banned human reproductive cloning (clones meant to be born and brought up as children).
This, in itself, is an obstruction to the development of human cloning technology. However, experts suggest that, from a technological point of view, cloning human beings should be possible one day. Whether we would see it become commonplace or just remain a one-off scientific discovery is yet to be determined.
Header image courtesy of Envato.