Science & Tech

Animal cloning pros and cons

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Will cloning save us from famine and disease or destroy life as we know it?
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What are the benefits and the risks of animal cloning?

And God said, "Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens." 21 So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind…. And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds." …And God saw that it was good.

This and other creation stories like it have served for centuries to describe the supernatural creation of the animals that surround us. And for most people, that description worked. Then evolution came into vogue, and the idea of natural selection and adaptation was introduced. And battles ensued.

But despite the differences, whichever side of that battle scientists and theologians chose, they agreed on one point: the creation of life rested outside of the control of man.

And then science brought forth cloning. And all bets were off.

With the introduction of cloning, human beings were finally in control of creating life. We could chose a specific animal and create an exact duplicate. No need to play the odds with genetic combinations or hybridization. A breeder, farmer or scientist could create a clone of a favored dog, cow or mouse. A pet owner with the means to pay could essentially extend the life of a beloved dog or cat forever by creating endless copies. 

And as the technology has improved, Orwellian visions of cloned human beings have been tossed about in ethics classes and the popular press. The means exist, at least in theory, to duplicate ourselves. But is cloning good or bad? 

Leaving aside the concept of human cloning in this article, the debate still rages over animal cloning pros and cons. Is it ethical? Is it safe? Is there a benefit beyond the ability to control animal production with more precision?

The pros of animal cloning

Control over uncertainty

One of the major drawbacks in animal breeding is the uncertainty of genetic outcome. Mating two prize dogs, cattle or horses does not guarantee that the offspring will demonstrate the best traits of either parent. Cloning sidesteps the genetic roulette inherent in breeding and allows the creation of exact duplicates. In theory, that means better animals and less rejected, sick or deformed offspring. 

Standardized test subjects

Those who object to animal research often cite the genetic variance in lab animals as proof that any results obtained in the lab cannot be generalized. Mouse A may react well to a drug, while Mouse B does not. Is it the fault of the drug or genetics? Cloning would allow researchers to standardize the genetic makeup of animals used in a given test. This would, they claim, allow them to better assess the results of any drug trials or other experimental procedures.

A new source of needed organs

Cloning has been touted as a way of creating spare organs that would never be rejected by a recipient. Current animal cloning experiments have included animals cloned just to be used as spare parts for the source animal. Some claim that once this is perfected, a similar processes would allow human beings to clone their organs to protect them in the event of heart failure, liver damage or other catastrophic illness.  

The cons of animal cloning

Cloning is expensive and far from certain

Despite the big promises and utopian visions, animal cloning remains expensive and uncertain. Many cloned animals are born with major defects resulting from the process itself, and must be destroyed. The cost of cloning makes its use in farming and basic research economically unfeasible. 

The safety of cloned animals as food has not been tested

The safety of cloned animals as food sources has not been established. Although the animals are in theory identical, the same forces that result in so many visibly defective offspring could also result in invisible but dangerous alterations on the cellular level. These changes could be dangerous to human beings consuming the meat, eggs or milk of the cloned animals.

The ethical issues are unresolved

The ethical issues surrounding cloning have not been resolved sufficiently to warrant a wholesale endorsement of the practice. The slippery slope of mastering animal cloning could entice some humans to duplicate themselves, or to create living, breathing organ farms within cloned humans. Of all the animal cloning pros and cons, this is the most frightening to most ethicists and religious observers.

While some form of cloning may prove beneficial, it is wise to proceed with caution. Once released from the box, these Pandoric technologies are almost impossible to stop.

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