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Cloning the sheep

What is the meaning of genetic replication of sheep? Is there a risk in this scientific development that was not there before?

The genetic duplication of sheep at the Roslyn Institute in Scotland excited the imagination of science fiction enthusiasts, but also gave chills to those who fear the dangers of science. The fear of the "mad scientists" struck again: the identical and obedient soldiers of a cruel dictator marched all over the place, and cloned babies of a superior race emerged from the test tubes.

As in many other cases, there is a combination of false fears, lack of understanding and mixing of fields. What is the breakthrough that the scientists reported? It is not actually about the ability to breed many genetically identical creatures - we have been doing this for many years by hybridization. There are also no twins in the sheep whose birth has been reported - they are all identical twins conceived in vitro.

The breakthrough is in being able to get a normal embryo without fertilizing an egg with sperm. But even here the innovation is limited: in frogs this was done years ago, and the enthusiasm is only for the ability to do this in mammals, and perhaps, soon, in humans as well. The real excitement is for the scientists, who have been studying for many years the wonderful process of fertilization and the creation of the embryo. A fertilized egg begins to divide, and while it creates billions of new cells, a perfect creature grows before our eyes: a fly, a sheep or a human. This process requires combining the genetic material of father and mother, and creating the exact internal conditions that allow the fertilized egg to develop into a new embryo. Nature ensured that the fertilized egg would be the only cell capable of embryonic development. A normal cell in our body, even though it contains all the genetic information that a fertilized egg has, is not capable of creating an embryo. Without such a barrier, there was a danger that embryos would start to grow as cancerous tumors in the lungs, bones or liver. Scientists have now overcome this biological barrier with sophistication and technological innovation. They implanted the nucleus of a normal body cell in place of the egg nucleus. The egg body retained its special ability to produce an embryo, but the genetic program it replicated was that of a normal cell.

This achievement is very important for understanding the biology of the cell and the mysteries of fertilization and embryonic development. Each fertilized egg is different from its parent, as exemplified by the difference between siblings, because fertilization brings together a unique and special sperm with an egg that has no second. The mechanism that allows this is based on the fact that each sperm or egg cell, which contains half of the genetic load of the parent, receives a different combination of genetic information segments. The cells of the body, on the other hand, are all completely identical in their genetic load. Therefore, if we succeed in "convincing" normal body cells to resemble a fertilized egg, we can perform cloning, that is, create a "clan" of thousands of identical embryos. This while using thousands of cells taken from a certain specification, which will thus reproduce itself, without the need for fertilization. But is there any serious risk in this scientific development that was not there before? The answer seems to be negative. Soldiers blindly following a mad leader need not be genetically identical. Any television viewer who sees a broadcast from the squares of Tehran or from the jungles of Cambodia will testify to this. The ability to create identical copies of humans has existed in principle for several years. This, in a way similar to the natural process in which identical twins are created - separation of cells created from the fertilized egg in the first divisions after fertilization, and their implantation in the uterus. Scientists and doctors have imposed restrictions on themselves that prevent the misuse of this ability, and these restrictions will also be well suited to preventing misuse of the new technology. Even those who see themselves as victims of extreme feminism have no reason to fear the latest development. Women can already give birth without the help of a man, with artificial insemination from the sperm bank. Soon they will be able, if they wish, to choose the sex of the newborn, in a process far simpler than genetic transplantation.

However, the new development is likely to be very beneficial. Man has been engaged in domesticating animals and increasing their positive qualities for thousands of years. The dog lovers, the horse trainers, the cowboys and the shepherds have engaged and engage without fear in creating elite breeds, all the details of which are very similar to each other. One of the pioneers in this field was Jacob Avinu, who raised spotted and spotted sheep using split sticks. No one would blame a dairy farmer for wanting all his cows to be docile, virus resistant and high milk yielders. We have achieved this so far through complicated and lengthy processes of hybridization and artificial insemination. Instead of wasting the resources and time involved in the old methods, genetic transplantation guarantees a much faster and more accurate way to create new and superior varieties. The danger that a dictator who wants to clone himself, or someone else, will be restored is small - it seems that brainwashing is much more effective than genetic cloning. It must also be remembered that an army of identical twins will be much more sensitive to diseases caused by viruses, due to a lack of diversity in the immune system, and a wise tyrant will not choose this way to conquer the world. The social system, standing up to the will of a few to harm society through incitement or violence, could easily deal with even a mad scientist-tyrant, if he arose. It is understood that the legislator will have to consider the new developments, as he does with regard to many other technologies. But in conclusion, sheep cloning is primarily an exciting scientific development, and we should not get caught up in unwarranted fears about the inherent threat to humanity.

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