Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The cloned life of Snuppy the Dog

There's been a major breakthrough -- for better or for worse -- in the world of cloning:

South Korean researchers are reporting today that they have cloned what scientists deem the most difficult animal, the dog.

The group worked for nearly three years, seven days a week, 365 days a year and used 1,095 eggs from 122 dogs before finally succeeding with the birth of a cloned male Afghan hound. The surrogate mother was a yellow Labrador retriever.

Dogs have such an unusual reproductive biology, far more so than humans, scientists say, that the methods that allowed cloning of sheep, mice, cows, goats, pigs, rabbits, cats, a mule, a horse and three rats, and creation of cloned human embryos for stem cells, simply do not work with them.

Cloning enthusiasts no doubt see this as a major triumph, but ethicists may see it as yet another, well, Sign of the Apocalypse. I'm somewhat ambivalent.

On the one hand, I find cloning troubling enough as it is, and, now that it's moved on into the canine world, I'm even more seriously disturbed by it. I'm hardly a moralist, let alone a religious one, but do I worry when humans play God and mess with nature. I know that's a fairly simplistic way to look at it, but I'm just not sure that the cloning of human beings would be such a good thing. (Use your imagination and think of what could be done and what could go wrong.)

On the other hand, I recognize that a lot of good could come from cloning, or at least from cloning research. I support stem-cell research, for example, and these same South Korean researchers have already extracted stem-cells from cloned human embryos.

No, I wouldn't say that this latest development is a SOTA -- surely it's not as troubling as, say, Brangelina (see right sidebar) -- but it's quite possible that ill-conceived and ill-advised cloning will lead us ever further in that direction. Scientific advancement is very much a part of the human condition, but it needs to be balanced by a healthy sense of responsibility and perspective. I wonder if the cloning enthusiasts really know what they're doing.

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  • If you read the Times article carefully it's actually not that huge a step forward in cloning technology per se, for the method by which they extracted the DNA from the skin cells and inserted it into the mature dog ova is pretty old hat these days. What is remarkable is that they were able to do all of this quickly enough to accommodate the finicky reproductive system of the dog. (Not that you'd ever guess that their reproductive systems are finicky from the way they reproduce, but that's neither here nor there.) The holy grail, however, will be to move from cloning whole beings to parts of beings that we find useful, such as hearts and livers and kidneys. And we're still a long ways away from that. (Click here for my take on this article!)

    By Blogger Vivek Krishnamurthy, at 8:30 PM  

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