Research advances over the past decade have told us that, with a little work, we humans can clone just about anything we want, from frogs to monkeys and probably even ourselves!
So, we can clone things, but why would we want to? Let's look at some of the reasons people give to justify cloning.
1. Cloning for medical purposes
Of all the reasons, cloning for medical purposes has the most potential to benefit large numbers of people. How might cloning be used in medicine?
2. Reviving Endangered or Extinct Species
Have you seen Jurassic Park? In this feature film, scientists use DNA preserved for tens of millions of years to clone dinosaurs. They find trouble, however, when they realize that the cloned creatures are smarter and fiercer than expected.
Could we really clone dinosaurs?
In theory? Yes. What would you need to do this?
In reality? Probably not. It's not likely that dinosaur DNA could survive undamaged for such a long time. However, scientists have tried to clone species that became extinct more recently, using DNA from well-preserved tissue samples. For an example, see "Can we really clone endangered or extinct animals?" on the right side of this page.
3. Reproducing a Deceased Pet
No joke! If you really wanted to, and if you had enough money, you could clone your beloved family cat. At least one biotechnology company in the United States offers cat cloning services for the privileged and bereaved, and they are now working to clone dogs. But don't assume that your cloned kitty will be exactly the same as the one you know and love. Why not? See Cloning Myths.
4. Cloning Humans?
To clone or not to clone: that is the question. The prospect of cloning humans is highly controversial and raises a number of ethical, legal and social challenges that need to be considered. To explore some of these, see What are Some Issues in Cloning?
Why would anyone want to clone humans? Some reasons include:
From a technical standpoint, before humans are cloned, we need to have a good idea of the risks involved. How sure can we be that a cloned baby will be healthy? What might go wrong? To evaluate the technical challenges to cloning, see Risks of Cloning.
Supported by a Science Education Partnership
Award (SEPA) [No. 1 R25 RR16291-01] from the National Center for Research Resources, a component of the
National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services. The contents provided
here are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official
views of NCRR or NIH.
History of Cloning
For a detailed history of cloning, see The Clone Zone.
Can we really clone endangered or extinct animals?
To date, the most successful attempt to do so was the cloning of a gaur, a rare oxlike animal from southeast Asia. Scientists used a cow to bring the cloned baby gaur, named Noah, to term. Two days after birth, however, Noah died from a common bacterial infection.
Other endangered species that may be cloned include the African bongo antelope, the Sumatran tiger, the cheetah and the giant panda.
Cloning extinct animals such as the wooly mammoth or Tasmanian tiger is much more difficult due to the lack of properly conserved DNA.
Efforts are underway to clone the very recently extinct bucardo mountain goat, formerly of Spain. However, if this effort succeeds it will only produce female clones. Scientists speculate they may be able to remove one X chromosome and add a Y chromosome from a related goat species to make a male.
Need references, more information or the latest news on cloning? See Additional Resources.