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Amjad Rafi

The road to answers or chaos?

By Diana J. Choyce
Oct 18 - 24, 1999

Cloning has been a much debated subject for some time now. One side is convinced of its need to be used for the good of the world, the other side is convinced it is a sacred line that should never be crossed. However research has continued amid the storm of controversy. Over the last few years a vast array of projects have been started and many with very good results and successes. But the question still remains...Is cloning necessary and do we know where to draw the line? The cloning of a 21 year old Brahman Bull has been achieved by scientists at Texas A&M. "Chance" is the oldest animal donor ever used for a cloning project and has produced a son named "Second Chance". Researchers say the young bull has the exact marking of his father. This project was actually started at the request of the owners of Chance. Because of his gentle and easy nature, and due do his inability to have his own offspring, it seemed a good idea to attempt a replica. "Chance", the father, died several months ago, long before the almost 190 attempts were made to produce his son. Second Chance is doing well and is reported to be in good health. The ultimate hope in this project is to create profitable opportunities to the cattle breeding industry and perhaps for other animals as well.

Another project involving a Holstein bull is being done by a private company ABS Global Inc. in Madison, Wisconsin. "Gene" is a 20 month old bull cloned from cells taken from a fetus at a local packing house. "Gene" is not a superior bull, and were thinking he may be pretty much average, " says Marc vant Noordende, president and chief executive officer of ABS. "But when he was a year old, we collected semen from him and distributed it to some of our test herds. He will produce offspring, and thats a vital element to this technology. We need to show he can produce just like any other bull. " ABS has worked for 15 years to produce their cloned bull.

ABS has an interest in cloning not only for cattle breeding but also for the pharmaceutical applications. And they are already planning to bring their technology to the marketplace. The cattle breeding aspects are probably 10 years away from everyday applications. So at this time they are concentrating on the pharmaceutical uses. "We can transplant a foreign gene into the DNA, and attach to the gene a DNA sequence that is tissue-specific, " Michael Bishop, vice president of research says. "The target would be the mammary cells, and in turn it would produce milk that carries the proteins needed for the pharmaceuticals. "We can make individual cloned animals that would express that protein in their milk." Some of the products include human vaccines and plasma components. And if the ability can be passed on to their offspring it would increase the development of these products.

Earlier this year, in a different research project, a goat named "Millie" was cloned to produce milk containing a protein that could be extracted to make a drug for coronary bypass patients. The protein, called anti-thrombin III (AT III), is now in human clinical trials. In 1997 scientists succeeded in cloning an adult mammal to produce a sheep named Dolly. Another research group at Portland's Oregon Health Sciences University, using a similar technique, announced that they had success in cloning primates. Unlike Dolly, whose donor cells came from an adult, the cloning of the primates involved using embryos. Scientists are divided on the significance of this work, since many labs have used embryos to produce clones for at least the last decade.

In Hawaii last year a team of researchers developed the "Honolulu Technique" which involved cloning mice from adult mice cells. This process has allowed them to reproduce up to five generations of mice.The possible ways in which this technique can be used is in researching, treating, and conquering human diseases such as AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, and diabetes. By applying the Honolulu Technique to other animals, like sheep for example, researchers may gain a better understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms behind these and other diseases. Their ultimate goal is use their technique to genetically alter animals for the production of human transplant organs. Researchers stress that this breakthrough is not intended for the cloning of humans, but for the ability to "arm ourselves" with the tools necessary to fight disease.

And where is all this animal cloning research leading us? Most likely to the inevitable road of human cloning. Animal cloning alone has brought about a huge and probably lasting controversy. Human cloning can only lead us further into ethical chaos no matter how we look at and no matter how good our intentions. From producing medicines, saving endangered species, preserving prize animals, to harvesting organs for human transplants is a huge jump for science. Is cloning and genetic engineering a necessity or is it really the easy way out? Can its ethics hold up to the scrutiny it deserves? And can we really live with the ultimate ego trip of playing God? Only time will give us the answers and hopefully these will come before our intrusion into creation causes irreversible damage.