ISIS Report - 11/3/2001
Why Clone At All?
Why would anyone clone a sheep or a cow, let alone a human being?
None save the genetic determinists who believe an organism is nothing more than
the sum total of its genetic makeup and that it is their right to exploit
cloned human embryos for spare body parts. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho explains why
clone is a misnomer. The original Dolly experiment was misguided,
and subsequent attempts at cloning many other species have been plagued by the
same failures. Far from producing identical copies of individual organisms,
fatalities and monstrous abnormalities are generated at high frequencies. It is
irresponsible and unethical to continue such gross experiments even for
"Hundreds volunteer for clones"
An international team of fertility scientists gathered in Rome for a
conference on human cloning amidst much controversy . Since the team
announced in January that they intend to produce the first human clone, some
600 and 700 couples have put themselves forward and the number is rising
rapidly, according to team member Panayiotis Zavos, a US doctor. "Interest has
come from all over, from Japan to Argentina, from Germany to Britain." He told
reporters his team was ready to start cloning in the next few weeks,
principally to help infertile couples, despite strong opposition from religious
groups and from the scientists who are themselves involved in cloning animals.
Zavos said people would eventually get over the current opposition to
human cloning. "Historically this is normal but once the first baby is born and
it cries, the world will embrace it," he said. "Now that we have crossed into
the third millennium, we have the technology to break the rules of nature."
Human cloning was contemplated at least as far back as four years ago
when Dolly the cloned sheep was first unveiled. It is the ultimate
eugenicists dream or nightmare, depending on whether one subscribes to
the mythical power of genes to determine fate .
A Frankenstein beyond reproach
On Sunday, February 23, 1997, Ian Wilmut, an embryologist working in the
Roslin Institute just outside Edinburgh in Scotland, announced that they had
succeeded in cloning a sheep from a cell taken from the mammary
gland of an adult. The clone, named Dolly, then seven-months-old,
was said to be genetically identical to the adult from which the cell had been
taken. Public reaction was swift. Did it mean this could be done in humans?
Were we nearer to cloning human beings?
The headlines for the next few days were sensational. "Galileo,
Copernicus and now Dolly!"
"The spectre of a human clone"
"In the past few days, we have lived through a change in our condition as
momentous as the Copernican revolution or the splitting of the atom"
"Scientists able to create human clone ".
President Clinton of the United States declared that the cloning of
Dolly raised "serious ethical questions, particularly with respect to the
possible use of this technology to clone human embryos." He told a panel of
bioethics experts to report back to him in 90 days. (In June, Clinton imposed a
ban on human cloning for 5 years.)
The story was on the front-page of the New York Times. It
dominated television newscasts and gave rise to endless streams of articles and
talk shows. By Wednesday, the share price for PPL Therapeutics, which carried
out the work in collaboration with scientists at the Roslin Institute, had
risen by more than a third, to increase its market value by £25m. We are
to make no mistake as to what is driving the science. The Roslin scientists own
no shares in the company, and will not benefit directly. However, the
cloning technology has been patented jointly by PPL and the Institute. So the
Institute will certainly expect to benefit from royalties, if not from
continued research contracts and grants.
At first, the scientists involved dismissed cloning humans as science
fiction. The technique was very difficult, they said. They had manipulated
nearly 300 embryos to get one success. The fact that it could be done in sheep
did not mean it could be done in humans. A few days later, Wilmut admitted that
it could be done in humans, although the Director of the Roslin Institute,
Grahame Bulfield, insisted they would not allow cloning to be used in harmful
ways, and especially not for work on humans. Instead, he emphasised that the
breakthrough could, in the long-term lead, to "a myriad new ways" to help
humans. Herds of transgenic animals could be farmed for proteins, blood and
organs. Gene therapy could provide cures for fatal diseases.
Ian Wilmut himself offered the prospect that a human embryo, produced by
the same method, could be used to treat cancer and other life-threatening
diseases. Human embryos would be grown until key cells could be extracted from
the embryo and used to treat human diseases. During the work, the embryo would
die. In other words, human embryos would be farmed, or pharmed like
the transgenic animals mentioned by the Director of the Institute. The horror
of this thought was tempered only by Wilmuts re-affirmation that cloning
a human would be "technically difficult and ethically unacceptable". However,
it transpired that patents on the technology filed by the Institute would cover
all animals, including human beings.
A newspaper later in the year reported on headless frogs created by a
scientist who raised the prospect of engineering headless human clones to grow
organs and tissues for transplant surgery. He thought these headless human
embryos could not possibly suffer, and would reduce public objection on ethical
While Wilmut welcomed Clintons reaction, and accepted the need for
the issues raised to be considered by biologists and professors of ethics, he
was unapologetic about the experiment. He expressed irritation at the
continuing "atmosphere of criticism" surrounding his success. "Here we have a
remarkable achievement, a world first, and there are people who seem to make a
living out of spreading angst, he said. "You cannot blame the scientists for
making those kind of discoveries. We are not Frankenstein-type people. If we
hadnt made the breakthrough somebody else would; the technology is out
there. It is now up to society to decide how it should be used and we welcome
any discussion of these matters."
These are significant words, not least because they reveal the
scientists unspoken assumption that he can do no wrong. He is, by
implication, simply following a natural obligation for the "advancement of
science", an aim above reproach. In fulfilling this noble obligation, there can
be no question of any personal responsibility to decide whether he should.
There were many forces at work that converge towards the cloning of
Dolly. The pure motive of the advancement of science may be only one among
them, personal advancement and prestige, a strong other. And one must not
underestimate the importance of financial backing from the pharmaceutical
industry, eager to reap the rewards of a growing market in reproductive
biotechnologies. A substantial amount of the financial support for the research
actually came from the taxpayer, via the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and
Mounting pressure from industry and the scientific establishment
eventually led to legislation for therapeutic human cloning, which
was passed by the UK House of Lords in a decisive vote in January 22, 2001.
While the legislation does not make reproductive human cloning legal,
researchers in the UK can now create human embryos by the technique that made
Dolly, for the purpose of providing cells and tissues for transplant purposes
(see "The unnecessary evil of therapeutic human cloning", this
It is significant that not one among the luminaries invited to comment
on Dolly in the UK within the first week of the discovery was a woman. Women
have been conspicuously absent from the scene. The only allusion to women was
Wilmuts revelation that the worlds first cloned animal was named
after the singer, Dolly Parton, because the cell used to create her came from
the "impressive mammaries" of the adult sheep.
This cloning technique is the latest in a long line of
developments in industrialised societies that increasingly wrests control of
reproduction away from women, to put into the hands of expert scientists and
faceless corporations that turn reproduction into services and
It all began with the Pill and other methods of contraception
predominantly aimed at women. Although the Pill is generally seen to give women
more choice and control, it also puts the entire burden of responsibility for
parenthood and otherwise on them, leaving men completely free and
blameless. That is why we live in a society that still stigmatises
single mothers. After the Pill came in vitro fertilisation and
infertility treatments, sex determination of embryos, surrogate motherhood,
germline gene replacement therapy, and now, cloning, a method that
bypasses fertilisation altogether. It is the logical culmination of the
instrumental, exploitative science that treats nature as so many objects to be
manipulated for the benefit of mankind. So embryos, even human
embryos, can be turned directly into commodities, or else into
pharm animals to produce proteins, cells or organs to order, for
those who can afford to pay.
But who would want to clone a sheep, or a cow, let alone a human
being? None save the genetic determinist who believe an organism is nothing
more than the sum total of its genetic make-up and that it is their right to
exploit cloned animals and even human embryos for spare body parts. It is
indeed genetic determinism that inspires the act, that simultaneously validates
and legitimises it and makes it so compelling, not only for the scientists
concerned, but also for a substantial sector of the public who have become
hooked on the genetic determinist propaganda.
A journalist, writing in one of the top newspapers in the UK, surpassed
himself in the euphoria he experienced over the cloning of Dolly, "..In the
sheepish gaze of Dolly from Edinburgh, awesome possibilities glitter. We can
imagine, just a little, how it must have felt to be a Tuscan Jesuit reading
Galileos Dialogue on astronomy, or a pious Londoner settling down 250
years later with a first edition of Origin of Species." The reason for
his euphoria was that he really believed geneticists have begun to reveal how
much is determined in our genes, and that in gaining control of our genes,
human beings are gaining control of their own destiny.
E.O.Wilson, the founder of the discipline of sociobiology that purports
to explain all human behaviour in terms of the natural selection of genetically
determined behavioural traits, was quoted in the same article describing the
human brain (presumably human consciousness) as "an exposed negative waiting to
be slipped into developer fluid". And, "The print is the individuals
genetic history, over thousands of years of evolution and there is not much
anybody can do about it."
In the same vein, Jonathan van Bierkom, professor of genetics at the
University of Colorado commented, "After all, if you believe in the selfish DNA
theory the evolutionary imperative to propagate ones gene
then this is the ultimate." Richard Dawkins arch
neo-Darwinian and genetic determinist, famous for the utterly banal idea that
human beings are nothing but automatons acting under the influence of their
selfish genes whose only imperative is to replicate also
declared himself delighted. He confessed he would like to be cloned. He would
love to watch a tiny copy of himself grow up. "So instead of watching a mixture
of yourself and your partners genes playing on the swings, you could
watch the unadulterated you."
All too predictably, a letter in support of cloning, circulated on the
Internet, was signed by among others, the three arch genetic-determinists:
Richard Dawkins and E.O.Wilson, together with Francis Crick, famous for
discovering the DNA double-helix and for propounding the doctrine of genetic
determinism in its most extreme form.
"Now we can reproduce ourselves without sex
", Andrew Marr
continued triumphantly in his article, chiding both "religious fundamentalists"
and "open-eyed liberals" for calling attention to eugenics (while admitting
that they had a point), but citing with approval novelist Fay Weldons
tongue-in-cheek comment that nature hasnt done such a good job that we
cant improve on it, and that it is rather primitive of us to be so
fearful of ourselves. It would definitely be a sin, he said, to use political
authority to ban new thinking or new research. Tom Wilkie, a science journalist
turned senior policy analyst with the Wellcome Trust charity, was quoted as
saying that moral attitudes evolve and that, up until 1950, it was illegal and
considered immoral to use the corneas of dead people for transplant.
If people like Wilkie and Marr cannot tell the difference between using
human corneas for transplant and cloning a human being, then we have not only
descended into complete moral relativism but have also substituted Science for
God. There is an underlying attitude that Science is, indeed, beyond reproach,
that it can never be wrong, while "moral attitudes" or ethics are infinitely
negotiable and maleable. So, let us examine the science to see if it bears out
the claims that have been made for it.
How is the cloning done?
In the cloning procedure, cells from an adult sheeps
udder are cultured until they reach a stationary state and cease to
grow or divide. A cell is taken from the culture and fused with an egg from
another sheep from which the nucleus has been removed. This allows the nucleus
of the cell, containing the genome of the first adult sheep, to substitute for
the eggs genome. The egg then starts to develop in vitro and,
after making sure that it is developing normally, is transferred into the womb
of a surrogate mother sheep that carries it to term. Out of a total of 277
embryos created in this way, only 29 developed sufficiently
normally to be transplanted into foster mothers. And of those 29,
only one Dolly resulted.
Actually, neither the idea nor the technique is new. Extensive
experiments of this kind were done in the frog in the 1960s by John
Gurdons group in Oxford, and the axolotl by other developmental
biologists. In no case, however, did the scientists involved claim they were
creating clones. Far from it, for they knew they were doing no such thing.
The intellectual motivation for the experiments came from a deep problem
in developmental biology. Organisms, no matter how complex, typically start
development from a single fertilised egg cell that goes through successive cell
divisions to produce many cells. These cells then undergo a hierarchical
process of determination to form different organs and, later on, to become
progressively differentiated into distinctive nerve cells, skin cells, liver
cells and so on. There are two related questions which nuclear transplant
experiments address. First, when cells become determined to form different
organs, does the process involve irreversible changes so that the cell loses
the ability to form other organs and other cells? The second question is
whether cell differentiation involves irreversible changes in the genetic
material carried in the nucleus of the cell.
The scientific paper on Dolly published in Nature did not claim
that Dolly had been cloned. It was entitled, "Viable offspring derived from
foetal and adult mammalian cells". Cloning was claimed, however, in the press
releases and official comments to the public. The implication of their claim
was that the viable offspring, Dolly, contained the original "genetic
blueprint" intact, and hence adult cells could be used to produce another
organism like the original.
In the earlier amphibian experiments, many developmental abnormalities
resulted, and the furthest any embryo resulting from the nuclear transplant
developed was to the juvenile, tadpole stage. However, by repeating the nuclear
transplant serially that is, taking cells from the first nuclear
transplant embryo and transplanting the nucleus into a second egg cell
it was found that adult frogs could be created, most of which were infertile
and abnormal in some way. In one set of results cited, a total of
3546 nuclear transplants were done, using cells grown from adult frog skin. The
success rate of the first transplants to produce tadpoles was 0.1% in
other words, the failure rate was 99.9%. Serial transfers improved the success
rate to 12%, but these tadpoles came from those 0.1% that had developed to
tadpoles on the first transplant and were therefore pre-selected. And even the
successes showed varying degrees of abnormality.
The technique of nuclear transplantation was actually invented by two
other scientists in the 1950s. Extensive series of experiments carried out
subsequently led to the following conclusions.
- The developmental capacity of transplanted nuclei to support
development decreases with the increasing age of the donor cells.
- The reduced developmental capacity of the nuclei is irreversible, and
may involve DNA changes, such as chromosomal damage, as well as other
- The developmental abnormalities resulting from the nuclear
transplants experiments show no correlation to the kind of cells used.
- There is no evidence that the original genetic blueprint
remained intact in any cell, except those obtained in the very earliest stages
of development when the number of cells in the embryo could be visibly
Thus, there is no evidence that the original genetic
blueprint remained intact in any cell, except those obtained in the very
earliest stages of development when the number of cells in the embryo could be
visibly counted. Nevertheless, in summarising their results, Gurdon stated,
"The main conclusion to be drawn from the experiments summarised in this
chapter is that the nuclei of different kinds of cells in an individual appear
to be genetically identical." (my italics)
Gurdons claim was not supported by the data, and contradicted the
subsidiary conclusions made just before. This was surely someone trying to
salvage the accepted dogma that genes (DNA) do not change in development, only
the expression of genes, in the face of evidence to the contrary. This
misreading or misinterpretation of evidence is familiar in the long history of
genetic determinism .
The only real novelty in the Dolly experiment was that it was done in
sheep, and that an apparently healthy live-birth was obtained without serial
nuclear transplants. The interpretation of the results in the Nature
paper was more cautious. Although it did not comment on the large proportion of
failures, it stated, "The fact that a lamb was derived from an adult cell
confirms that differentiation of that cell did not involve the
irreversible modification of genetic material required for development to term"
The science is fundamentally flawed in assuming that an individual is
determined entirely by its genetic make-up and that the genetic make-up of
adult cells remains unchanged. This is not supported by the results of the
nuclear transplantation experiments. Many commentators in newspaper articles
have pointed out, in the context of human cloning, that the clone is not
identical to the original individual, on account of the different life
experiences the clone will have. Even identical twins, which are more
clones in the strict sense of the word, are different individuals.
However, there are other more specific scientific errors involved.
First of all, one cannot clone any organism simply from a cell taken
from the adult organism. It cannot be done without the egg from the second
sheep, which plays the key role in somehow rejuvenating and
reprogramming the nucleus introduced with the cell, erasing all the
imprinting marks and other modifications in its DNA that make it a
mammary gland cell. Most probably, the egg changes the introduced DNA in other
ways so that it is appropriate to be the genome of a fertilised egg at the
start of development. Recently, geneticists have come to suspect that one of
the main reasons for the high failure rate of nuclear transfer cloning is
because clones are not made from sperm and eggs, with their DNA properly
imprinted by each parent .
Another important contribution of the egg cytoplasm is that it provides
important cues for the proper body plan characteristic of the species
something which is yet very imperfectly understood, despite the isolation of
large numbers of genes affecting body plan in the fruit fly.
The egg also provides the food-store, as well as the sub-cellular
power-houses or mitochondria that generate the energy
intermediate, ATP, which is used in all the energy transformations necessary
for growth and development. The mitochondria, as it happens, have their own
complement of DNA, and each mitochondrion with its DNA is replicated
independently in the cytoplasm, so when the cell divides, each daughter cell
will have the right number of mitochondria. Lineages of organisms can be traced
through mitochondrial DNA, and mutations in mitochondrial genes are associated
with a number of diseases. No cell can live without mitochondria.
The really interesting aspect of this experiment is the role played by
the egg cytoplasm, which is almost uniformly ignored by all commentators,
reflecting the patriarchal bias in current mainstream science.
Nuclear-cytoplasmic interactions are well-known in the old scientific
literature. Development cannot proceed if the nucleus and the cytoplasm are
incompatible with each other. Many characteristics are so strongly influenced
by the cytoplasm that cytoplasmic inheritance used to be a subject
in its own right before it was eclipsed by the general obsession with DNA since
Another scientific error is in assuming that the genetic make-up of all
the cells in the adult organism is the same, and identical to the fertilised
egg from which the adult has developed. This myth was already refuted by the
nuclear transplantation experiments in amphibians, and finally exploded since
the early 1980s by the discovery of the fluid genome. Somatic cells
(cells of the body apart from germ cells) accumulate point mutations and other
changes insertions, deletions, rearrangements, duplications,
amplifications and so on during the lifetime of the organism. Some of
these mutations are implicated in cancer. These DNA changes may account for the
low success rate of the cloning technique. Thus, it is a case of bad science to
ignore, if not wilfully misread, the evidence.
Since the Dolly experiment, numerous attempts have been made to clone
not only sheep but goats, cows, pigs, mice, and monkeys, with equally massive
fatalities and abnormalities as well as excessive suffering inflicted on
surrogate mothers who become mysteriously afflicted with fatty livers, fluid
retention and other serious illnesses. From the known abnormalities in all the
animal experiments, the scientists give a graphic description of what the first
100 human clones would be like .
"Almost all of the first 100 clones will abort
spontaneously because of genetic or physical abnormalities, putting the health
and lives of the surrogate mothers at risk. Of the handful of clones that make
it to term, most will have grossly enlarged placentas and fatty livers.
"And of the three or four fetuses that may survive their birth, most
will be monstrously big - perhaps 15 pounds (about 7 kilograms) - and will
likely die in the first week or two from heart and blood vessel problems,
underdeveloped lungs, diabetes or immune system deficiencies.
"With access to an intensive care unit, perhaps one of those 100 clones
It will bear the hallmark of most animal clones: a huge
navel - a remnant of the oversized umbilical cord that inexplicably develops
during most pregnancies involving clones."
It is clear that cloning experiments are morally reprehensible if only
for the suffering they cause, even in animals. We have had four wasted years in
which enormous public and private resources have been squandered with no
obvious returns in terms of scientific discovery or the health of nations. On
the contrary, untold damage is being done to the social and moral fabric of
civil society. It is time to draw a curtain over all cloning experiments.
- "Hundreds Volunteer for Clones, Scientists Say" Jane Barrett, ROME
(Reuters) 9 March 2001.
- This account is based on "Hello Dolly Down at the Animal Pharm" in
Genetic Engineering Dream or Nightmare? The Brave
New World of Bad Science and Big Business, by Mae-Wan Ho, Third World
Network and Gateway Books, 1998. Please refer to the original for detailed
- McCreath KJ, Howcroft J, Campbell KHS, Colman A, Schnieke AE and Kind
AJ. Production of gene-targeted sheep by nuclear transfer from cultured somatic
cells. Nature 2000, 405, 1066-9.
- "Cloning Humans: Failure Will Be the Norm" Rick Weiss Washington
Post March 8, 2001.