The idea of cloning has been around for longer than you might think; it was first studied by a scientist in 1885 and performed for the first time in 1902 on salamanders. As technology advanced throughout the 20th century cloning became more and more sophisticated, with Dolly the sheep being born in 1996 – cloned from adult sheep cells. More recently, cloning has become more widely used, with some businesses making a profit out of cloning people’s pets.
Cloning in 2021
Many organisations employ cloning to provide more of what they need: animals, plants and genes that are studied to understand diseases that affect thousands of humans. The use of clones ranges from resurrecting pets, to reproducing plants that could alleviate food shortages.
Cloning has long been employed as a plot device in sci-fi books and films, allowing humanity to catch a glimpse of a future where it is an accepted practice. The cloning of human stem cells is already performed and is used by doctors and scientists to study diseases that are not yet well understood.
Stem cells are also used as a treatment for illnesses. It is currently illegal to clone a person, but the potential is there. The future holds many possibilities, as hypothesised in futuristic film and writing: bringing ancient species back to life (woolly mammoths, for example), using cloned humans as organ donors or to flesh out an army.
What about ethics?
The process of cloning is not an entirely unnatural phenomenon – many organisms reproduce through clones. Clones created through human intervention include a variety of different animals: tadpoles, fish species, sheep, mice, monkeys, pigs, goats and more. A ferret clone, born in 2020, was cloned from an animal that died in the 1980s. Many people have moral objections to cloning, whether applied to animals or humans. With regard to animals, there are concerns that the subjects will suffer pain and trauma – especially if they have been cloned for use in research.
When it comes to humans, there are many philosophical and religious arguments against cloning. The use of human stem cells can even raise the eyebrows of some, who believe that it is morally wrong to interfere in a natural process. There are concerns about the rise of eugenics and the potential for people to “breed” a cloned species with the most desired characteristics.
To clone or not to clone
Cloning could have far-reaching consequences, both good and bad. Even now, scientists have managed to create clones of extinct species of animal, and there is a possibility of being able to clone woolly mammoths, using a female Asian elephant as a surrogate mother.
While cloning animals isn’t an exact science – it can take many attempts to create a viable dog clone, for example – it has resulted in cloned horses being used in Polo, and replicated sniffer dogs being used in airports. These are mega bonuses for many reasons. There are many arguments both for and against cloning, but it is clear that the process is here to stay. Ahead there lies an uncertain future: whether a dystopian or utopian future, it is impossible to predict.