Volume 90, Issue 85

Thursday, March 06, 1997



Holy sheep! Cloning way of the future

By Jeff Badger
Gazette Staff

Ever since two Scottish scientists revealed to the world they had successfully cloned a sheep, the possibilities for applying this knowledge seem almost to good to be true.

Some have suggested cloning could be applied to animals to replenish populations of endangered species or to continue desirable traits in livestock. It is possible the process could even be applied to humans.

"It doesn't seem to me that it would be any more useful than artificial insemination methods used now," said Western zoology professor Dave Ankney. "The down side is that in small populations you would essentially be inbreeding."

However, Ankney said animal cloning could have positive effects.

"I feel it has tremendous potential for the livestock industry, but again you are losing genetic variability," Ankney said.

"A desirable characteristic in an animal can make hundreds of sheep in just one generation," said Greg Gloor, assistant professor of biochemistry in Western's faculty of medicine.

He added under normal circumstances it would take decades to pass a trait on to an entire flock.

Gloor said in regards to moral issues surrounding the cloning of animals, science risks upsetting the balance of nature. "Genetic diversity is there for a reason – it protects certain animals from influences that affect or destroy others."

"The commercial prospects of the profits from the technology will drive development," said Barry Hoffmaster, Western philosophy professor. "Especially considering the [two Scottish] scientists withheld the announcement until a patent was consented."

Hoffmaster said those who work with cloning technology will need to shoulder some of the burden it creates.

"Scientists are ducking ethical scrutiny by saying that it is society which will decide how the process is applied," Hoffmaster said. "However they are a part of society as well, and must accept responsibility."

Gloor said it is not realistic to assume humans can be cloned accurately. "We are a combination of genetics as well as cultural and sociological environment. It is really a process of twinning," he said. "The long term will have a lot of benefit but there are grave moral issues."

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Copyright The Gazette 1997