3D printing and virtual reality is cool and all, but when are we going to be able to clone ourselves? It’d be nice to send our clone off to school or work and sit back and do what we really want to do.
There have been significant advances in cloning in the last several decades, resulting in the successful cloning of various animals. So far, though, there have been no human clones.
However, scientists think we’re close, so let’s take a look at just how far off human cloning might be.
The biology of cloning
In terms of biology, cloning means something quite different from what you might think. In the case of Dolly the sheep, one of the world’s most famous clones, the genetic material was taken from an adult cell, and that genetic material was then placed into an egg that contained no genetic material (it was removed).
That fertilized egg with a complete set of genes developed into an embryo. Once the cells started to divide, the embryo is then placed back into a uterus to help with growth. This type of actual cloning differs greatly from the ideas about cloning propagated through pop culture.
In terms of human cloning, the effects of this type of biological procedure probably won’t be as drastic as we might think. Richard Dawkins is quoted as saying:
"Anybody who objects to cloning on principle has to answer to all the identical twins in the world who might be insulted by the thought that there is something offensive about their very existence. Clones are simply identical twins."
Genes are being overemphasized in pop culture as to just what they mean in a clone. Somewhere in the world, there are children who look just like one parent and who grow up to behave just like one parent as well. This is already commonplace. A clone in scientific terms will be no different than children who are already born today. A human clone will pretty much look like one parent and have many of the same behavior predispositions as the one parent. As we just mentioned, this already takes place given current natural genetics.
The genetics of cloning
From a genetic perspective, if a mother gives birth to her own clone, which would be likely considering the current methods of cloning, then that baby would genetically be the mother’s sister. However, it’s likely that mothers who choose to conceive children this way in the future will not see the child like this. Researchers believe that our views of what children are will adapt to encompass this “cloned” child as being the same as any other child produced through normal conception.
Currently, one of the major issues in human cloning is simply achieving the proper clearance to do it legally. Experimenting on humans in such a way toes multiple ethical lines. In order to overcome these barriers, further genetic tests need to be carried out to establish protocols and safety factors.
Where will the first clone come from?
A human clone will likely first emerge from a fertility clinic, as this is the most applicable use for the technology. Fertility clinics are also the only places in the world where the technology exists to take an egg out of a woman’s ovary, a necessary step in cloning any genetic material. It’s theoretically possible that a fertility clinic has already cloned a human somewhere in the world and not said anything because of the highly illegal nature of the situation.
In large part, cloning has been a victim of pop culture to the degree that the general public has grand notions of what it will be like. Cloning a grown version of ourselves in a matter of hours or days (like you see in the movies) is likely always going to be impossible. Cloning in the genetic sense is what is being developed and pushed to the cutting edge of biotech.
While a genetic clone of a person will likely eventually be produced, there’s no way currently of reproducing much of what makes us who we are: our thoughts and experiences. A clone would have the same predispositions as the donor, but without the exact same life experiences, they would still act and think differently.
The simple fact of the matter is that we’re much more than our genes. In order to clone ourselves and the people around us in the ways depicted in pop culture, the approach would need to be very different. We would have to approach the process of cloning not from a genetic angle, but on a molecular level. A person would legitimately have to be recreated by every molecule to have the chance of being a “pop-culturalized clone.” Nearly every facet of that idea is still very much science fiction.
So, it’s currently theoretically possible to clone yourself, although no one has done it or tried it yet. This clone would grow up to look exactly like you, be your genetic brother or sister, and have the same genetic predispositions as you do. However, this is where the similarities would end. In reality, this clone would be a fully independent person with their own experiences and own thoughts. They might grow up to be very similar to you but would likely act more like a sibling or cousin than an exact clone.
And that… is how you can give birth to your own sister.
Cloning might not be that far off then. Theoretically, we already have the tools to make it happen today; we just have a decent amount of questionable ethics to wade through before the world won't raise major alarms at scientists cloning someone. That leaves the question to us then, the general public, do you think cloning is okay? Would you clone a lost loved one to bring them back, or if you found yourself unable to have kids, would you clone yourself? These are the questions we must answer first before we create human clones.