The New Island of Dr. Moreau
By RL Forrest
Britain has just granted Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, a license to clone human embryos for medical research. Ian Wilmut discounted fears that his work would lead to reproductive cloning. “This is not reproductive cloning in any way. The eggs we use will not be allowed to grow beyond 14 days,” Wilmut said. Therapeutic cloning is opposed by pro-lifers and other conservative groups because human embryos will have to be destroyed to harvest the cells.
Ian Wilmut and the Roslin Institute gained fame for their successful cloning of “Dolly the sheep” which was cloned from an adult cell back in 1997. Dolly was put to sleep in 2003 after she developed a lung disease.
Though Dolly’s cloning became world renowned, little is known of her cloning process and what preceded her birth. Dolly was the product of a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer which:
[,,,] [I]nvolves the removal of DNA from an egg-cell and fusion of that enucleated egg with a differentiated cell from an existing organism like a skin cell, or in the case of Dolly, a mammary cell from a sheep which had been dead for six years. […] The production of Dolly required at least 276 failed attempts. No one knows why these attempts failed and why one succeeded […]. Though 276 ‘failed’ lambs may be acceptable losses, the ethical implications of failed or partially successful human experiments are unacceptable” (Kolehmainen 1).
An article in the January 12, 2005, The Korea Herald titled “Seoul pushes animal organ research for transplant sale,” announced that the government has officially registered “a research team led by Seoul National University professor Hwang Woo-seok. […] In february 2004, Hwang’s cutting edge research produced the first cloned human embryos to generate stem cells for therapeutic purposes.” The government is promoting “medical biotechnology this year in an effort to commercialize animal organs for human transplants and other biological engineered products by 2009.” Genetic techniques have made tremendous advances in recent years “that can alter animal organs so they are not rejected by the human immune system. Industry watchers believe the commercial potential to be immense. The commercial potential is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.”
The premise put forth by many scientists that, the purpose of genetic engineering and cloning is to create better humans and upgrade the quality of life for all is a noble premise. In reality science reserves to itself the right to be unemcumbered or unrestricted in its scientific endeavors. Postulating that stance and helping themselves help the scientists achieve their noble premise are the agriculture and drug companies. With billions at stake in the commercialization of genetic engineering and the cloning arena, many experiments have been going on for years in secrecy.
An “example of secrecy was the extraordinary announcement by Advanced Cell Technology, Massachusetts on 12 November 1998 that three years previously they managed to take the nucleus from a human cell from Dr. Jose Cibelli and insert it into a cow’s egg. The human cells activated and the egg began to divide […]. More recently in March 2001 Australian scientists said they had been carrying on similar secret human cloning experiments using human cells and pig eggs for over two years […]. Genes from humans are already working in microbes, fish, rabbits, mice, pigs, sheep and cows. Some of these humanized pigs may be providers of heart transplants in the future […]. Human and rabbit cells have already been combined to make a humabbit – announced in late 2000. Fortunately only a few human embryo cells were added to the rabbit embryo – which was born looking exactly like a normal rabbit but with a mixture of human cells throughout its brain, skin, bone, kidneys, liver, eyes and heart (Dixon 3).
Many other experiments are already completed and are on your dinner table today. Other cloning experiments are still in the process. Below are some of the less known experiments “[…] [T]hat agriculture and drug companies have conducted or are conducting” […] (Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism 4):
Genes from the humans were put into sheep in Aotearoa (New Zealand) […], In Virginia, human genes have been introduced into cows, in order to produce human breast milk […], Spider genes were put into goats, so that goats will produce silk genes in their milk. The company plans to use the silk for bullet proof vests and anti-ballistic missile systems […]. Mice have been genetically engineered to produce human proteins in their semen. The plan is to later use this same technique with pigs. Spider venom has been patented for use in crops by AstraZenaca, scorpion venom has been patented by Agracetus/Monsanto, while snake venom for use in plants has been patented by Biogen Inc. […] (Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism 4).
Another lesser known cloning success from the Roslin Institute was Polly “[…] [A] cloned lamb whose every cell contained a human gene” […] (Kolata 2).
The race to create new serums, drugs, and genetically altered species are well under way. A careful review of the list above reveals that it is all being done for profit. Once the door is opened and the species propagate in the wild, many abnormalities and ecological disasters could occur.
In a long-awaited report released Tuesday, a National Academy of Sciences panel said its latest worry is not the food or milk from cloned livestock, but what could happen as scientists create creatures that can easily escape and reproduce in the natural environment. The concern is not theoretical. A Massachusetts company called Aqua Bounty is seeking federal approval to sell a type of fast-growing salmon it engineered, and another company is developing a type of “beneficial insect” for farms that can eat pests but survive pesticides. There is a “considerable risk” of ecological hazards being realized should transgenic fish or shellfish enter natural ecosystems […] (Leavenworth 5).
What the public learns today about cloning is usually yesterday’s news. We don’t know to what extent they have changed or created a hybrid species, but we do know they are further along then they are telling us. The future of genetic engineering marches onward stretching new boundaries with new ideas, new techniques, and the promise of new wealth. To leave cloning to scientists, agriculture, and drug companies without the public’s input, is a sure recipe for disaster. Scientist’s cloning advancements in cross-species genetic engineering are creating the new Island of Dr. Moreau. We are on the threshold of its new beginnings. Before they move into the next phase of cloning, we should stop and examine the moral and ethical impact that it will have on our society in the future.
(1) Kolehmainen JD, Sophia M. Human Cloning: Brave New Mistake Council For Responsible Genetics. 16 Nov. 2002 http://www.genewatch.org/programs/ cloning/brave-new-mistake.html” http://www.genewatch.org/programs/ cloning/brave-new-mistake.html
(2) Kolata, Gina. Human Cloning: Yesterday?s Never Is Today?s Why Not? 21 Nov. 2002 http://www.users.westnet.gr/cgian/ gkolata.htm
(3) Dixon, Dr, Patrick. Human Cloning: Demand Grows For Human Cloning 16 Nov. 2002 http://www.globalchange.com/clonech .htm
(4) Indigenous Peoples Council on Biocolonialism. Experimentation Crossing Species Boundaries 16 Nov. 2002 http://www.ipcb.org/pub/didyouknow .htm
(5) Leavenworth, Stuart, New Cloning Fears Raised The Sacramento Bee. 21 August 2002. 16 Nov. 2002 http://www.sacbee.com/content/news/ story/406731p-5092682c.html