It’s Sunday morning and you wake up to the worst hangover ever. As you very slowly make your way to the kitchen to make brunch, the aroma of bacon and coffee fills the air. You’re thinking it must be the neighbors. But as you approach the kitchen doorway, you find yourself staring at an exact copy of yourself, only in an apron.
There are two ways to look at this situation. You might have an identical twin who happens to be paying a visit and who is unusually treating you very nicely. Or, you’re stuck in a world that follows the rules of science fiction – you have a clone.
But in fact, both situations are actually quite similar. To help you understand some of the science behind cloning and genetics, this biology course will get you up to speed.
What Cloning Is and How It’s Done
Before you start pinching yourself and checking if you’re indeed stuck in a science fiction world, you might want to know what the cloning process is and how it works first.
Clones are exact genetic copies of each other where every bit of DNA is identical. There are two ways to artificially create a genetic copy of a living thing: Artificial Embryo Twinning and Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT).
Artificial Embryo Twinning
Similar to the natural process that creates identical twins, this technique involves the embryo splitting into two and developing into two separate individuals that came from the same fertilized egg. The artificial process involves allowing the embryo cells to divide and develop for a short period in petri dishes, and later placing them into a surrogate mother.
Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer
Also called “nuclear transfer”, SCNT is a more advanced way of cloning. Let’s break down the four words to better understand what this technique means:
- Somatic Cell – This is any cell in the body other than the sperm and egg cell.
- Nuclear – The nucleus is what houses the DNA, nature’s thumbprint for every living thing.
Transfer – The exciting part in cloning is in the process of transferring the nucleus and DNA from a somatic cell into an emptied egg cell. It’s emptied in a sense that the egg cell’s original nucleus was taken out for a new nucleus to take over. Scientists use an electrical current to help the membranes of the egg cell adjust to the nucleus from the donor cell.
Common Misconceptions About Cloning
A lot of controversy surrounds the process of cloning since it involves manipulating the blueprint of living beings. It’s probably because of false impressions about this process that keep it from being entirely embraced by all. Or maybe we just watch too much science fiction.
The Cloning Process is Always Done in Labs
Before the word “cloning” became such a controversy, Mother Nature was already working in her own laboratory and making copies of living things. For example, some plants are able to survive harsh weather conditions because certain parts (such as stems, leaves, or roots) can grow into other plants with the same genetic makeup. For more on how plants grow, this course will give you some excellent information.
In the animal world, some creatures are capable of reproducing without a mate, or “asexual reproduction”. Cut a starfish in half and both pieces would regenerate to form two identical starfish.
Theoretically, human identical twins are also clones because they come from the same egg that was split into two and in essence, share identical genes. However, some argue that identical twins really aren’t clones. To them, having a clone would be best described as having a child who’s exactly like you rather your exact copy of the same age.
Your Clone Will Always be Your Exact Same Copy
Isn’t it mind-boggling to find out that clones aren’t really exactly the same? Perhaps a better way of looking at it is that clones don’t end up exactly like each other. The simplest way to explain this is by observing how identical twins grow up. They may look and act almost the same when they’re still infants, but as they grow up the environment creates different personalities, tastes, and even physical appearances.
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Insta-Clone: Order Now!
The process of cloning is far from putting an entire person in a box and having his copy pop out from another. Cloning involves creating an embryo that will grow in a surrogate mother’s womb and not a fully-developed human being.
The Process of Cloning is New
Believe it or not, but cloning really isn’t technology from the future. We’ve been eating cloned fruits, vegetables, and meat for some time, without being fully aware of it.
The first ever demonstration of artificial embryo twinning was done on sea urchins in 1885, and in a vertebrate in 1902. Fast forward into the 90’s and we have Dolly, the first mammal created through SCNT. You can read more about Dolly, the famous cloned sheep, in this blog post. In 2013, Mitalipov and his colleagues first created human embryonic stem cells using SCNT.
Benefits of Cloning
Despite the ongoing ethical debates regarding cloning, there are actually a lot of uses the process can offer. These include:
- Medical and Pharmaceutical Applications – Stem cells that build and repair the body can be cloned to understand certain illnesses and find ways to treat them. Drug research and trials done on animals can be conducted on clones, instead of getting test subjects from the wild.
- Livestock – Imagine if you could breed livestock that produces more eggs or milk than the rest. Now think of what that can do if you can clone them. That’s more profit for the breeder, and more food for us.
- Saving Endangered Species – Although it really doesn’t address the root of the problem, conservationists can use cloning to further their cause and save species that are at the brink of extinction.
- Reproducing A Deceased/Elderly Pet – A lot people treat pets as family members. Some pets even serve as companions to people living alone. Cloning can ease the pain in the loss of a family pet by creating a new one.
Cloning is no longer just the stuff of science fiction, and we’re all here to witness it get even more interesting. Now that you understand more about how the process actually works, you’ll be able to better watch the science grow with each passing year. Or maybe it will just help you write that novel you’ve been planning, which you can find more tips on in this course.