Animation of the structure of a section of DNA. The bases lie horizontally between the two spiraling strands. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Could cloning and genetic engineering improve our chances of successful space colonization in the future? For example, what if we identified an exoplanet that is capable of sustaining life and sent frozen embryos on a 10,000 year journey to the planet where they would hatch(?) upon reaching the destination planet? Or perhaps genetic engineering will be required so that humans can evolve to survive life in space or on exoplanets (i.e. longevity, adaptability, etc.). Is this something that is worthy of further examination? Let’s briefly examine the process of cloning today and then decide.
Cloning and Genetic Engineering Today
The cloning process is advanced biotechnology at work. Cloning a whole organism was first successfully completed in 1996 when a sheep named Dolly was created by genetic scientists (Putney, 2011). Cloning and genetic engineering introduce the possibility for significant improvements in health care and agriculture. Stem cells can be used to produce tissues used to help those of failing health, and cloning agricultural products can ensure that only best livestock and grains are produced. This brings about possible reductions in agricultural costs and improvements in agricultural products. By cloning only the best specimens we can ensure that each individual is healthy and productive.
Time magazine’s Most Amazing Invention of the Year for the year of 2005 was a puppy named Snuppy. Snuppy was successfully cloned in a South Korean laboratory managed by Dr. Woo Suk Hwang. The most difficult step in the process of cloning the first canine was harvesting eggs that were receptive to the process. The canines proved to be more difficult than the cows and swine that Hwang had previously cloned. This is because the dog has a more restrictive breeding cycle. After many failed attempts, Hwang succeed with Snuppy. This was only possible after extensive research was done to determine when the cells would be primed for the cloning process. After the ideal egg cells are harvested, the next step in the process is very similar to the process of cloning human stem cells; a process at which Hwang had already proven himself very successful (Park, 2005).
Hwang’s team extracted more than 1,000 canine egg cells. After extracting and fertilizing the eggs cells, the geneticists transferred the embryos to 123 different surrogate females. The egg cells were fertilized by completely removing the original nucleus contained within and replacing it with a whole adult cell (Park, 2005). This supplies the egg cell with the genetic makeup necessary for cellular reproduction. After stimulating the egg cell, and then introducing it to a chemical bath the egg cell and the adult DNA bond together thereby forming one complete cell. This chemical process results in the cell division and replication of the DNA, mimicking the same process that an embryo goes through as it develops from a fertilized egg into an adult organism (Park, 2005). This process is called transgenic cloning (Bronson, 1998).
Another method of cloning, used to create specific proteins for use in medical research and eventually treatment of illnesses, is gene splicing. The first step in cloning a protein is to remove the DNA through a chemical process. After the DNA has been removed from the donor cell, enzymes are introduced to the DNA that will cause divisions in the DNA. This helps the geneticist locate specific genes in the DNA helix. The DNA of mammals does not reproduce on its own. Plasmids are a genetic structure that will replicate themselves within a bacteria cell. Plasmids, which are circular DNA structures, are sourced from bacteria cells. In order to cause the DNA of the desired protein to reproduce, the genes necessary for the desired protein the plasmid’s circular structure is broken using enzymes, and the DNA of the desired protein structure is added in; a process called gene splicing. Once the plasmid is placed inside a host cell (most commonly bacterium) the plasmid multiplies, producing many copies of the genes contained therein. This process was used in 1982 to reproduce insulin proteins with a bacteria colony. This bacterium-produced insulin came to be the first genetically engineered material allowed by the US government for use on humans (Bronson, 1998).
With a basic understanding of transgenic cloning and gene splicing, it is hard to understand why there is so much resistance to further research by political parties. Although it is a science that still needs further study in order to be perfected, it was proven in 1982 that further research of genetics can and will benefit humans and their medical treatment. Restriction of such a beneficial science in the US will not hinder other parties, such as the South Korean team led by Dr. Hwang. If the United States is to maintain its position of leadership among the international community, the citizens and politicians of the US will have to ease their opinions of genetic research.
What do you think? Is human cloning and genetic engineering necessary for the continued evolution of humans? Do you believe cloning will play a part in the future of humanity in terms of space colonization or space travel?
Bronson, R. (1998). From cells to clones. Odyssey, 7(2), 6. EBSCOhost Discovery Service.
Park, A. (2005, November). Dogged pursuit. Time, 166(21), 70-73. Retrieved from EBSCOhost Discovery Service.
Putney, J. B. (2011, January). The cloning conundrum. Practical Horsemen, 39(1), . EBSCOhost Discovery Service.
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