Animal cloning describes several different processes that could be used to create an animal that is genetically identical to another. The animal with the copied material is the one which is referred to as a clone.
Cloning can occur naturally, with some bacterium and plants producing offspring asexually. Natural “clones” can occur when a fertilized egg splits, though the DNA is not quite identical, even for identical twins.
Artificial animal cloning involves gene cloning, therapeutic cloning, or reproductive cloning. It is the reproductive cloning process which produces a genetically identical animal.
The primary benefit to consider with the science behind cloning animals is that we can work to produce the best possible animal population. We already work on this through artificial natural selection. By directly transferring genetic material, science could potentially reduce or eliminate the risk of defects or unanticipated mutations.
The disadvantage of cloning animals is that prolonged use of this technology would create a genetic bottleneck. With all animals have nearly the same, if not identical, genetic makeup, the species would be at an increased risk of extinction because of the risks of inbreeding.
Here are additional advantages and disadvantages of cloning animals to consider.
List of the Advantages of Cloning Animals
1. This science could help to restore balance to planetary ecosystems.
Our planet is adaptable, but we are discovering that ecosystems within the planet have less flexibility. If an animal goes extinct or leaves because the ecosystem does not support them anymore, the effects on the local area can be quite dramatic. Without wolves, for example, Yellowstone National Park saw a greater erosion of their river beds. Cloning could help us to restore this balance by replenishing or even reintroducing animals that are endangered or extinct.
2. It would improve our food chain supplies.
The United Nations estimates that more than 10 billion people will populate the planet by the year 2050. In 2150, that figure could double to 20 billion people. The taxation on planetary food supplies would be immense. Through animal cloning, we could add more animal protein into the food chain, eliminating some of the pressure that will undoubtedly be placed on croplands in future generations.
3. There could be research benefits.
Animal cloning doesn’t have to involve the entire animal. Certain organs, tissues, or cells could be cloned to facilitate medical or pharmaceutical research. The benefit of doing so would be eliminating the need to place the risk of an animal’s life at risk. Just the cloned cells or tissues could be evaluated to determine the effectiveness of a new idea.
4. It could ease grief.
Losing a cat or a dog hurts like it does because they are treated as members of our family. Pets add structure to our routines, keep us active, and can even help us overcome certain obstacles that may be holding us back. Pets give us a purpose. Through animal cloning, we could preserve the memories of a beloved pet, service animal, and family member with an identical animal. It would still be a unique individual, but there would also be some continuity to the emotional process that could ease grief.
5. Identical DNA does not necessarily mean an identical animal.
People will believe what they want to believe about animal cloning. John Woestendiek, who wrote the book Dog Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend, told IO9 in 2012 of a man who believed the soul of his dog “found its way into his clone.” As we saw with Dolly the Sheep, however, an identical animal through nuclear DNA does not mean the animals is a complete, indistinguishable clone.
List of the Disadvantages of Cloning Animals
1. The science of cloning is unsuccessful a majority of the time.
Despite the numerous success stories of reproductive animal cloning that began with Dolly the Sheep, 95% of cloning attempts end in failure. Many failed attempts require extensive veterinarian interventions to provide a measure of comfort to the affected animal. Cloning often results in a higher risk of birth defects, impairments, or susceptibility to illness. Even cloned animals that appear healthy have developed unexpected health issues.
2. Cloning is the least reliable form of reproduction.
In bovines, a condition called Large Offspring Syndrome occurs about 6% of the time. It is a condition that is usually fatal to the calf and can affect the mother as well. For bovines that are bred through reproductive cloning, this syndrome has occurred in over half of the total cloning attempts. 1 in 4 bovine clones will also experience a condition called hydrops, which causes the animal to swell with retained fluid.
3. Diversity loss eventually changes the species anyway.
The term “genetic bottleneck” is used to describe the loss of diversity within a specific species. A lack of genetic variation creates a reduced resiliency for the offspring in that species. Lethal genetic disorders are more likely to occur. It can occur naturally. Cheetahs, for example, share 99% of their genetics with other members of their species. In reproductive cloning, however, it would become 100%. To eliminate diversity loss, a similar species would need to be introduced to the genetic pool which would change the future course of the animal anyway.
4. There is the potential of a slippery slope.
When Star Trek premiered in the 1960s, one of their fictional historical accounts of Earth’s past include the “Genetics Wars” of the 1990s that involved cloning and genetic manipulation. Although we haven’t officially worked on cloning humans yet, the science of cloning animals could be very similar to the science of human cloning. The ethical, spiritual, and scientific implications of such science creates a slippery slope for society. Would cloned humans be held in higher regard? In a lower regard? Would they attempt to take over the world and rule it as they did in Star Trek?
5. It isn’t cheap.
According to Viagen Pets, the cost to produce a genetic twin to a cat is currently $25,000. The cost to clone a dog is listed at $50,000. The exact cost of cloning Dolly the Sheep has never been publicly released, but is estimated to have cost nearly $1 million. Grace Links reports the cost to clone a cow at $20,000. A company in Texas sells cloned horses for up to $150,000 per animal.
The advantages and disadvantages of animal cloning show us that we can learn a lot from the science behind this process. With careful study and implementation, it could be a beneficial component of life here on our planet. If poorly supervised or implemented without good intent, it could also be a scientific process that could harm our very future.