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Many students, faculty concerned over cloning debate

March 27, 1997

By Melissa Harlow

Lariat Reporter

Earlier this month, the news was released that cloning has arrived and is making its way out of the closet.

The recent cloning of a mammal, known to many as a ewe named Dolly, has thrown the press and media into a frenzy. Questions have been directed as to whether such an act of science is right or wrong; whether there should be limits or set standards, and, basically, why a ewe?

People everywhere are entering the debate in large numbers and most people appear to be responding in haste.

Brenda Baker, a San Antonio junior, said, 'Scientists are coming up with some pretty strange ideas these days. Cloning seems to be the hottest issue right now, and though it sounds unbelievable, it also sounds as if people are trying to play God and see no problem with that.'

The International Cloning Society (ICS) has for some time been preparing for such a moment. At ICS, there is a certain feeling of satisfaction that the subject of cloning is now an open and debatable issue.

'We always held the belief that cloning was in the horizon and that there would be perfectly acceptable reasons to clone humans,' said Dr. A.D. Lafferty, director of the society, in a recent news release.

What exactly is a clone? Simply stated, a clone is a duplicate-much like a photocopy is a duplicate, or copy, of a document. A good example of such 'copies' that occur in nature are identical twins, which are duplicates of each other.

On a daily basis, molecular geneticists and other scientists use cloning techniques to replicate various genetic materials such as gene segments and cells. Because of this, many citizens question what applications scientists are developing that use cloning methods. How will these applications affect daily living? And, more importantly, what are the social and ethical implications of using such techniques?

In many ways, both our understanding and our opinions of genetics and cloning come from various forms of mass media, especially from the movies. Although genetic cloning is a reality, at least in animals, it sometimes becomes difficult to discern the factual aspects if modern cloning from the creative fantasy of a Hollywood movie.

It's time to separate fact from fiction.

Dr. Raymond G. Bohlin, director of research at Probe Ministries, said in a recent health article, 'A fully developed organism cannot be cloned; however many researchers have used cloning technologies to replicate embryos.'

Presently agricultural scientists are experimenting with cloning animal embryos to improve upon and increase the production of livestock, he said.

The first successful attempt at producing live animals by cloning one embryo occurred in Edinburgh, Scotland, as is reported in the March 6, 1996 edition of Nature. The animal, of course, is the popular ewe Dolly.

Researchers believe that cloning animal embryos will be perfected, producing higher-yielding and disease-resistant livestock.

Dr. Mark Westhusin, professor of Biology at Texas A&M, said, 'Cloning has shifted from duplicating embryos to duplicating cell lines. Though experiments have proven such a process can be very successful, it is very expensive and not 100 percent effective. Cloning animals may be effective and may greatly benefit supply and demand, but it is stupid to get too emotionally involved and make irrational decisions with this branch of science.'

Cloning embryos is similar to what happens naturally when identical twins are created in the womb.

'We all start as one-celled organisms. Normally the cell divides and differentiates to make one human.' Bohlin said.

With twins, as the cell divides, it separates into two cells. The two cells continue to divide and differentiate independently, and develop into two unique human-beings with identical genetic structures, he said.

Cloning is forcing a cell to divide, thereby creating identical twins.

There has been continuing debate around the moral and ethical limits on cloning human embryos. Currently it is illegal to use federal research funds in the United States to clone human embryos.

Though Dolly has made the news the world over, some uncertainties remain as a result of her cloning. Dolly began from a cell that was 6 years old. A normal ewe lives around 11 years. Dolly might not live to see her 7th birthday.

Also, it is uncertain as to whether Dolly will be reproductively fertile. Frog clones are usually sterile.

Human cloning is not lurking around the corner, waiting to take center stage in line in today's high technology. The ethical legitimacy and potential abuses that could result from cloning are matters no where near a resolution, Bohlin said.

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