Human cloning

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Diagram of the ways to reprogram cells along with the development of humans.

Human cloning is the creation of a genetically identical copy of a human. The term is generally used to refer to artificial human cloning, which is the reproduction of human cells and tissue, and is not in medical practice anywhere in the world. It does not refer to the natural conception and delivery of identical twins. The possibility of human cloning has raised controversies.

There are two commonly discussed types of theoretical human cloning: therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. Therapeutic cloning would involve cloning cells from a human for use in medicine and transplants, and is an active area of research. Two common methods of therapeutic cloning that are being researched are somatic-cell nuclear transfer and, more recently, pluripotent stem cell induction. Reproductive cloning would involve making an entire cloned human, instead of just specific cells or tissues.


Although the possibility of cloning humans had been the subject of speculation for much of the twentieth century, scientists and policy makers began to take the prospect seriously in the 1960s.

Nobel Prize-winning geneticist Joshua Lederberg advocated cloning and genetic engineering in an article in The American Naturalist in 1966 and again, the following year, in The Washington Post.[1] He sparked a debate with conservative bioethicist Leon Kass, who wrote at the time that "the programmed reproduction of man will, in fact, dehumanize him." Another Nobel Laureate, James D. Watson, publicized the potential and the perils of cloning in his Atlantic Monthly essay, "Moving Toward the Clonal Man", in 1971.[2]

With the cloning of a sheep known as Dolly in 1996 by somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), the idea of human cloning became a hot debate topic.[3] Many nations outlawed it, while a few scientists promised to make a clone within the next few years. The first hybrid human clone was created in November 1998, by Advanced Cell Technology. It was created using SCNT - a nucleus was taken from a man's leg cell and inserted into a cow's egg from which the nucleus had been removed, and the hybrid cell was cultured, and developed into an embryo. The embryo was destroyed after 12 days.[4] Since a normal embryo implants at the fourteenth day, Robert Lanza, ACT's director of tissue engineering, told the Daily Mail newspaper that the embryo could not be seen as a person before the fourteenth day.[citation needed]

In 2004 and 2005, Hwang Woo-suk, a professor at Seoul National University, published two separate articles in the journal Science claiming to have successfully harvested pluripotent, embryonic stem cells from a cloned human blastocyst using somatic-cell nuclear transfer techniques. Hwang claimed to have created eleven different patent-specific stem cell lines. This would have been the first major breakthrough in human cloning.[5] However, in 2006 Science retracted both of his articles on clear evidence that much of his data from the experiments was fabricated.[6]

On January 2008, Dr. Samuel Wood and Andrew French of the biotechnology company Stemagen announced that they successfully created the first five mature human embryos, aiming to provide a source of viable embryonic stem cells, using SCNT. In this case, each embryo was created by taking a nucleus from a skin cell (donated by Wood and a colleague) and inserting it into a human egg from which the nucleus had been removed. It is not clear if the embryos produced would have been capable of further development, but Dr. Wood stated that if that were possible, using the technology for reproductive cloning would be both unethical and illegal. The five cloned embryos were destroyed.[7][8]

In 2013, a group of scientists led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov published a report of successful creation of embryos using SCNT.[9] A year later, a team led by Robert Lanza at Advanced Cell Technology reported that they had replicated Mitalipov's results and further demonstrated the effectiveness by cloning adult cells using SCNT.[3][10]


Somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT)[edit]

Diagram of SCNT Process

In somatic cell nuclear transfer ("SCNT"), 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 with a micropipette, the somatic cell genetic material is fused with the egg using an electric current. Once the two cells have fused, the new cell can be permitted to grow in a surrogate or artificially.[11]

Induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs)[edit]

Overview of iPS cells

Creating induced pluripotent stem cells ("iPSCs") is a long and inefficient process. Pluripotency refers to a stem cell that has the potential to differentiate into any of the three germ layers: endoderm (interior stomach lining, gastrointestinal tract, the lungs), mesoderm (muscle, bone, blood, urogenital), or ectoderm (epidermal tissues and nervous system).[12] A specific set of genes, often called "reprogramming factors", are introduced into a specific adult cell type. These factors send signals in the mature cell that cause the cell to become a pluripotent stem cell. This process is highly studied and new 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. These cells would appear as rapidly dividing cancer cells that do not respond to the body's natural cell signaling process. However, 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.[13]

Uses, actual and potential[edit]

Stem cell treatments

Work on cloning techniques has advanced our basic understanding of developmental biology.[14]

Additionally, iPSCs and cells created by SCNT are useful for research into the causes of disease, and as model systems used in drug discovery.[15][16]

Cells produced with SCNT, or iPSCs could eventually be used in stem cell therapy,[17] or to create organs to be used in transplantation - for instance, a liver.[18]

Ethical implications[edit]

In bioethics, the ethics of cloning refers to a variety of ethical positions regarding the practice and possibilities of cloning, especially human cloning. While many of these views are religious in origin, the questions raised by cloning are faced by secular perspectives as well. Perspectives on human cloning are theoretical, as human therapeutic and reproductive cloning are not commercially used; animals are currently cloned in laboratories and in livestock production.

Advocates support development of therapeutic cloning in order to generate tissues and whole organs to treat patients who otherwise cannot obtain transplants,[19] to avoid the need for immunosuppressive drugs,[20] and to stave off the effects of aging.[21] Advocates for reproductive cloning believe that parents who cannot otherwise procreate should have access to the technology.[22]

Opposition to therapeutic cloning mainly centers around the status of embyronic stem cells, which has connections with the abortion debate.[23]

Some opponents of reproductive cloning have concerns that technology is not yet developed enough to be safe - for example, the position of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as of 2014,[24] while others emphasize that reproductive cloning could be prone to abuse (leading to the generation of humans from whom organs and tissues would be harvested),[25][26] and have concerns about how cloned individuals could integrate with families and with society at large.[27][28]

Religious groups are divided, with some opposing the technology as usurping God's place and, to the extent embryos are used, destroying a human life; others support therapeutic cloning's potential life-saving benefits.[29][30]

Current law[edit]


Australia has prohibited human cloning,[31] though as of December 2006, a bill legalising therapeutic cloning and the creation of human embryos for stem cell research passed the House of Representatives. Within certain regulatory limits, and subject to the effect of state legislation, therapeutic cloning is now legal in some parts of Australia.[32]


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.[33] It also bans making changes to human DNA that would pass from one generation to the next, including use of animal DNA in humans. Surrogate mothers are legally allowed, as is donation of sperm or eggs for reproductive purposes. Human embryos and stem cells are also permitted to be donated for research.[citation needed]

There have been consistent calls in Canada to ban human reproductive cloning since the 1993 Report of the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies. Polls have indicated that an overwhelming majority of Canadians oppose human reproductive cloning, though the regulation of human cloning continues to be a significant national and international policy issue. The notion of "human dignity" is commonly used to justify cloning laws. The basis for this justification is that reproductive human cloning necessarily infringes notions of human dignity.[34][35][36][37]


Human cloning is prohibited in Article 133 of the Colombian Penal Code.[38]


Denmark has not currently agreed to any genetic laws or bans and does not appear to show any interest in banning human cloning and human transgenics.[citation needed]

European Union[edit]

The European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine prohibits human cloning in one of its additional protocols, but this protocol has been ratified only by Greece, Spain and Portugal. The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union explicitly prohibits reproductive human cloning. The charter is legally binding for the institutions of the European Union under the Treaty of Lisbon.[citation needed]


India does not have specific law regarding cloning but has guidelines prohibiting whole human cloning or reproductive cloning. India allows theraputic cloning and the use of embryonic stem cells for research proposes.[39][40]


Human cloning is prohibited in the Charter of Romania's Constitutional rights. It is viewed as a basic violation of a human's right to safety of identity, and personality.[citation needed]


Human cloning is explicitly prohibited in Article 24, "Right to Life" of the 2006 Constitution of Serbia.[41]

United Kingdom[edit]

On January 14, 2001 the British government passed The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (Research Purposes) Regulations 2001[42] 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, on 15 November 2001, a pro-life group won a High Court legal challenge, which struck down the regulation and effectively left all forms of cloning unregulated in the UK. Their hope was that Parliament would fill this gap by passing prohibitive legislation.[43][44] Parliament was quick to pass the Human Reproductive Cloning Act 2001 which explicitly prohibited reproductive cloning. The remaining gap with regard to therapeutic cloning was closed when the appeals courts reversed the previous decision of the High Court.[45]

The first licence was granted on August 11, 2004 to researchers at the University of Newcastle to allow them to investigate treatments for diabetes, Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.[46] The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, a major review of fertility legislation, repealed the 2001 Cloning Act by making amendments of similar effect to the 1990 Act. The 2008 Act also allows experiments on hybrid human-animal embryos.[47]

United Nations[edit]

On December 13, 2001, the United Nations General Assembly began elaborating an international convention against the reproductive cloning of humans. A broad coalition of States, including Spain, Italy, the Philippines, the United States, Costa Rica and the Holy See sought to extend the debate to ban all forms of human cloning, noting that, in their view, therapeutic human cloning violates human dignity. Costa Rica proposed the adoption of an international convention to ban all forms of human cloning. Unable to reach a consensus on a binding convention, in March 2005 a non-binding United Nations Declaration on Human Cloning, calling for the ban of all forms of Human Cloning contrary to human dignity, was adopted.[48][49]

United States[edit]

In 1998, 2001, 2004, and 2007, the United States House of Representatives voted whether to ban all human cloning, both reproductive and therapeutic. Each time, divisions in the Senate over therapeutic cloning prevented either competing proposal (a ban on both forms or reproductive cloning only) from passing. On March 10, 2010 a bill (HR 4808) was introduced with a section banning federal funding for human cloning.[50] Such a law, if passed, would not prevent research from occurring in private institutions (such as universities) that have both private and federal funding. There are currently no federal laws in the United States which ban cloning completely, and any such laws would raise difficult Constitutional questions similar to the issues raised by abortion. Thirteen American states (Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, North Dakota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Dakota, and Virginia) ban reproductive cloning and three states (Arizona, Maryland, and Missouri) prohibit use of public funds for such activities.[51]

In popular culture[edit]

Cloning is a recurring theme in a wide variety of contemporary science fiction. Aspects of cloning can be seen in action films such as The 6th Day, Resident Evil, The Island, and Jurassic Park. The theme of cloning can even be seen in comedies such as Woody Allen's 1973 film Sleeper.[52] Other movies have used the idea of cloning as a vehicle to explore issues of identity and human relationships.[53][54]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Araujo, Robert John, “The UN Declaration on Human Cloning: a survey and assessment of the debate,” 7 The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly 129 - 149 (2007).
  • Oregon Health & Science University. "Human skin cells converted into embryonic stem cells: First time human stem cells have been produced via nuclear transfer." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 May 2013. <>.

External links[edit]