Human Cloning – Facts, Ethics and Process

human cloning

Human cloning is the creation of a genetically identical copy. The term refers to artificial human cloning – the reproduction of cells and tissue.

What is Human Cloning?

J Haldane was the first to suggest the concept of human cloning in 1969, a tern used in farming from the turn of the century.


The history of cloning

Lederberg caused controversy with bioethicist Kass, writing “the programmed reproduction of man will, in fact, dehumanise him.” Nobel Laureate, James D. Watson, later publicised in his Atlantic Monthly essay, “Moving Toward the Clonal Man”, in 1971.

Dolly the sheep, cloned in 1996 by somatic cell nuclear transfer, human cloning became a hot topic. The first hybrid human clone was created in 1998, by SCNT; a nucleus was taken from a man’s leg cell and inserted into a cow’s egg, and the hybrid cell developed but the resulting embryo was executed within 2 weeks. In 2004 and 2005, Hwang Woo-suk, published two separate articles in the journal Science claiming to have successfully harvested pluripotent, embryonic stem cells from a cloned human blastocyst using SCNT techniques. In 2006 Science retracted both of his articles when the data wasn’t verified and was found to be fabricated.

In 2008, Dr. Andrew French and Samuel Wood of the biotechnology company Stemagen announced that they successfully created the first five mature human embryos using SCNT. The embryos were developed to the blastocyst stage.  In 2011, scientists at the New York Stem Cell Foundation announced that they had succeeded in generating embryonic stem cell lines, but their process involved leaving the oocyte’s nucleus in place, resulting in triploid cells.

In 2013, a group of scientists led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov published the first report of embryonic stem cells created using SCNT. In this experiment, the researchers developed a protocol for using SCNT in human cells. Four embryonic stem cell lines from human fetal somatic cells were derived from those blastocysts. All four lines were derived using oocytes from the same donor, ensuring that all mitochondrial DNA inherited was identical. In 2018, the first successful cloning of primates with the birth of two live female clones.


Potential and future of human cloning

Observing human pluripotent stem cells grown in culture provides great insight into human embryo development. Studying signal transduction within the early human embryo will hopefully provide unknown details around many diseases and defects. Studying developmental pathways in humans has strengthened the hypothesis that developmental pathways are conserved throughout species. iPSCs and cells created by SCNT are useful for predicting model systems in drug discovery.

Cells produced with SCNT, or iPSCs could eventually be used in regenerative medicine. Stem cell therapy is the use of stem cells to treat or prevent a disease or condition. Bone marrow transplantation is stem cell therapy. The future could be using this to treat heart disease and diabetes. This type of medicine would allow for autologous transplantation, thus removing the risk of organ transplant rejection by the recipient.



Laws around human cloning

In 2018 approximately 70 countries had banned human cloning.


In December 2006, a bill legalising therapeutic cloning and the creation of human embryos for stem cell research passed the House of Representatives. Therapeutic cloning is now legal in some parts of Australia.


Canadian law prohibits the following: cloning humans, cloning stem cells, growing human embryos for research purposes, and buying or selling of embryos, sperm, eggs or other human reproductive material. Surrogate mothers are legally allowed, as is donation of sperm or eggs for reproductive purposes.

There have been consistent calls in Canada to ban human reproductive cloning since the 1993 Report on New Reproductive Technologies. In the past, the majority of Canadians reject human reproductive cloning. Human dignity is commonly used to justify cloning laws.


Human cloning is prohibited in Article 133 of the Colombian Penal Code.

European Union

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union prohibits reproductive human cloning. The charter is legally binding for the institutions of the European Union.


India has guidelines prohibiting human cloning or reproductive cloning. India allows therapeutic cloning and the use of embryonic stem cells for research purposes. There are legal implications in this case. India has already succeeded in mammalian cloning.


The Federal Assembly of Russia introduced the Federal Law N 54-FZ “On the temporary ban on human cloning” in 2002. President Vladimir Putin signed this moratorium.


South Africa

In terms of section 39A of the Human Tissue Act 65 of 1983, genetic manipulation of gametes or zygotes outside the human body is absolutely prohibited. A zygote is the cell resulting from the fusion of two gametes.


United Kingdom

In 2001 the British government passed The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Regulations 2001 to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 by extending allowable reasons for embryo research to permit research around stem cells and cell nuclear replacement, thus allowing therapeutic cloning. However, in 2001, a pro-life group won a High Court legal challenge, which abolished the regulation. Parliament was quick to pass the Human Reproductive Cloning Act which explicitly prohibited reproductive cloning.

The first license was granted in 2004 to the University of Newcastle to allow them to investigate treatments for diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. A 2008 Act allows experiments on hybrid human-animal embryos.


United States

The Patients First Act of 2017 (HR 2918, 115th Congress) aims to promote stem cell research, using cells that are “ethically obtained”, that could contribute to a better understanding of diseases and therapies, as well as promote the “derivation of pluripotent stem cell lines without the creation of human embryos”.

In 1998, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009, the United States Congress voted whether to ban all human cloning, both reproductive and therapeutic (Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act). On March 10, 2010 a bill (HR 4808) was introduced with a section banning federal funding for human cloning. Such a law, if passed, would not have prevented research from occurring in private institutions (such as universities) that have both private and federal funding. However, the 2010 law was not passed.

There are currently no federal laws in the United States which ban cloning completely. Fifteen American states prohibit use of public funds for such activities. Ten states, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey and Rhode Island, have “clone and kill” laws that prevent cloned embryo implantation for childbirth, but allow embryos to be destroyed.



Ethics of human cloning

In bioethics, cloning refers to a variety of ethical positions regarding the practice and possibilities. Advocates support development of therapeutic cloning in order to generate tissues and organs to treat patients, to avoid the need for immunosuppressive drugs, and to stave off the effects of ageing. Advocates for reproductive cloning believe that parents who cannot otherwise procreate should benefit.

Opposition to therapeutic cloning mainly centres around the status of embryonic stem cells, which has connections with the abortion debate. Opponents raise concerns that technology is not developed enough to be safe – the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It is commonly suggested by oposition that reproductive cloning would be abused. Some opponents will raise questions on whether clones have rights. “Cloning’s Future” raises serious questions as to whether the embryos have any rights or if the right to life of an embryo is superseded by the will of the donor.

Some Christian theologians perceive the technology as usurping God’s role in creation and, to the extent embryos are used, destroying a human life.


Methods and processes in human cloning

Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)

In somatic cell nuclear transfer, the nucleus of a somatic cell is taken from a donor and transplanted into a host egg cell, which had its own genetic material removed previously, making it an enucleated egg. After the donor somatic cell genetic material is transferred into the host oocyte, the cell material is fused with the egg using an electric current. The new cell can be permitted to grow in a surrogate or artificially. This is the process that was used to clone Dolly the sheep. The technique, now refined, has indicated that it was possible to replicate cells and reestablish pluripotency – the potential of an embryonic cell to grow into any one of the numerous different types of mature body cells that make up a complete organism.


Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)

Creating induced pluripotent stem cells is a longer process. Pluripotency refers to a stem cell that has the potential to differentiate into any of the three germ layers: endoderm, mesoderm, or ectoderm. A specific set of genes, often called reprogramming factors, are introduced into an adult cell type. These factors send signals in the mature cell that cause the cell to become a pluripotent stem cell. Techniques are being discovered frequently on how to better this induction process.

Depending on the method used, reprogramming of adult cells into iPSCs for implantation could have severe limitations in humans. If a virus is used as a reprogramming factor for the cell, cancer-causing genes called oncogenes may be activated. In 2008 scientists discovered a technique that could remove the presence of these oncogenes after pluripotency induction, thereby increasing the potential use of iPSC in humans.


Comparing SCNT to reprogramming – advantages and disadvantages

Both the processes of SCNT and iPSCs have merits and deficits. Historically, reprogramming methods were better studied than SCNT derived embryonic stem cells. The major advantage of SCNT over iPSCs is the speed with which cells can be produced. New studies are working to improve the process of iPSC in terms of both speed and efficiency with the discovery of new reprogramming factors in oocytes. Another advantage of SCNT is its potential to treat mitochondrial disease, as it utilises a donor oocyte.




Recent category posts


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