Cloning isn’t something new. It might surprise you that nature has been cloning since the start of time. Scientists, however, have been doing it for a while and it has helped us to understand more about the world and ourselves, as well as opened up a number of possibilities and breakthroughs in medical research.
Cloning occurs naturally, for example us humans naturally produce identical twins. Twins are genetically identical clones of each other. Other forms of cloning can occur in plants, bacteria and some animals. These types of natural cloning are often achieved through asexual reproducing, when a plant or animal can reproduce by oneself to produce a genetically identical clone of itself.
In potato and daffodil plants natural cloning occurs when they produce and underground food storage organ which results in a cloned plant after a year or so.
In animals the process of natural cloning through asexual reproduction is rather rare, only certain species of fish, insects, frogs and lizards have been found to naturally reproduce asexually in the wild. This process is called parthenogenesis and occurs usually when a male is not available for mating or fertilisation.
The most common known species to parthenogenesis is the starfish. Under certain circumstances animals such as lizards can develop the ability to produce asexually when a male is not to be found. Lizards such as the whiptail lizard are capable of breeding asexually, as are komodo dragons. In fact the entire whiptail lizard population is female as they are all natural genetically identical clones.
In science, cloning has given us the ability to clone good cells to replace the bad.
Stem cells are used in today’s medical treatments to help heal patients from illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease and leukaemia. Cloning is used in some stem cell methods such as therapeutic cloning. In therapeutic cloning we have the ability to clone stem cells found in patients undergoing medical treatment if their body rejects foreign stem cells from a donor or a stem cell bank.
This method of treatment is very controversial at this time as a cloned embryo needs to be produced from the patient’s stems cells.
Today we collect stem cells in a different manner. If a couple’s family have a history of leukaemia, for example, they may wish to store their baby’s stem cells when they are born. Stem cell collection takes place during birth from the umbilical cord blood and are kept at a stem cell storage center to be used if and when your baby gets sick and needs medical treatment.
As these stem cells are genetically the same as the baby, the stem cells would not be rejected by the baby’s body and could help them with a number of medical treatments. Stem cells at the moment can only be used within the first 20 years of collection. If any close relation to the baby whose stems cells have been collected also needs medical treatment they will have a high chance to their body accepting the stem cells too.
Although today’s stem cells collected from babies are not cloned themselves, cloning does have a connection with stem cells and could possibly benefit us in the future.