SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, January 2, 2003, Chandigarh, India

Human cloning: troubling questions
Rajeev Goel
he recent claim of a human cloning company named Clonaid to have produced a cloned baby has once again brought to the fore the issues of ethics and process of human cloning.

Sound waves as refrigerants
T.V. Parasuram

n a major leap, scientists have developed a technology that converts sound waves into refrigeration, which could lead to more environment-friendly and efficient household and industrial products.



Human cloning: troubling questions
Rajeev Goel

The recent claim of a human cloning company named Clonaid to have produced a cloned baby has once again brought to the fore the issues of ethics and process of human cloning. A biomedical research company in Massachusetts had also claimed in November, 2001, that their scientists were successful at cloning for the first time a human being.

Human clone embryo

The theologians, scientists, physicians, legal experts and public in general worldwide have expressed scepticism and great irritations over these claims as most of the countries, including the USA and European Union, had already put a ban on human cloning around five years back.

The Clonaid claims to be the first human cloning company founded in February, 1997, by Rael, a spiritual leader of the Raelian Movement. This is an international organisation with around 55,000 raelians all over the globe. Rael thinks that cloning is the first step in the quest for eternal life and claims that life on earth was created some 25,000 years ago through cloning by a human extraterrestrial race whose name Elohim, appears in the Hebrew Bible. The main goal of Clonaid since its inception was no doubt to produce a human clone despite the ban on cloning.

The cloning is not new. It has been used for many years to produce plants, frogs, toads etc. The prospects of cloning a human being, however, turned bright when the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, was successfully delivered in Scotland in February, 1997. Since then, it became one of the foremost thoughts on people’s mind.

Cloning is the process of producing a genetically identical organism via parthenogenesis or a sexual means i.e. without the fusion of a sperm and an egg. In human cloning, the aim is for the two cells to fuse to become one. Scientifically speaking, human cloning is achieved by using the technique of nuclear transplantation where an egg devoid of its nucleus (enucleated egg) gains a full set of genes or chromosomes from the cells of an adult (donor) and behaves as if it has been fertilised. The adult cell may be any cell (e.g. a skin cell) of the adult body except the reproductive cell as the reproductive cell contains half the set of chromosomes. This so called fertilised egg or manipulated egg or prompted egg is implanted into the womb of a woman where it ultimately develops into a human embryo, which later on is delivered as an identical replica or clone of the adult.

A few scientists have rather called human cloning as a "time delayed genetically identical twin" of the donor rather than his or her replica. Because they believe that it is not possible to transfer the memory and personality of the donor to the newly cloned as the environmental factors and random events are surely bound to be different during the development of a newly cloned. The clone may not, therefore, be the same person except for in looks and genes. Moreover, researchers have now put forward the hypothesis that the genetic contribution to looks, such as height, complexion etc. are also affected by environmental factors. This further strengthens the view that clone is merely a genetically identical twin rather than a replica.

There are proponents as well as opponents of human cloning. Those who are in favour of human cloning say that human cloning can be used both for therapeutic and reproductive purposes. Hence the name "therapeutic cloning" and "reproductive cloning". Therapeutic cloning uses the early stage cloned embryos to take out special cells called embryonic stem cells which have the potential to develop into any other type of cell in the body e.g. liver cell, pancreatic cell, skin, blood, heart muscle, brain cell etc. These stem cells can be implanted into the body to treat various diseases like diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, heart diseases, cancer especially blood cancer and autoimmune disorders.

The therapeutic cloning will also be of great help in case of organ transplantation. Imagine a situation where a person needs organ transplantation. It is not only difficult to get an organ but there are also very high chances of organ rejection because of the organ incompatibility. Therapeutic cloning will enable the person to have cent per cent genetically identical organ from his or her own clone. This genetically identical organ will be fully compatible for transplantation and hence will not be rejected.

Reproductive cloning represents a new reproductive method that is different from sexual reproduction and in vitro fertilisation (IVF), a form of artificial or assisted reproduction. Reproductive cloning can give life to an identical twin of the original cell donor. The infertile couples can therefore, have a child of their own genetic makeup. The homosexuals can also have children by using the technique of reproductive cloning. Moreover, the families who have lost a beloved relative, or a nation its great leader, can now think of having his or her so called genetically identical replica by availing reproductive cloning technology. One can also raise an identical child at least in terms of genetic makeup after unfortunate death i.e. cloning the dead.

The opponents of human cloning, which include people from all sections of society, are, however, of the view that the use of terms like "therapeutic cloning" and "reproductive cloning" yields only confusion and merely depicts the intention for their ultimate use. They believe that there are no valid justifications to produce human clones either for reproductive reasons or for generation of human embryonic stem cells. They consider that all forms of human cloning are unnecessary and immoral and have raised many ethical, religious, social, legal and biological issues pertaining to human cloning.

The opponents are of the opinion that one can use other outstanding advances in research and medicine such as using latest biotechnology products like recombinant insulin, pharmaceuticals and surgical methods and the use of adult stem cells rather than embryonic stem cells for the treatment and cure of the serious diseases as an alternative to human cloning. Is human life so cheap that we should kill the cloned embryo after getting the desired organ or should we clone an embryo for the sake of having an organ for transplantation? Is life of the patient requiring an organ transplant worth more than an intentionally killed innocent cloned embryo?

Are these cloned embryos not human beings entitled to any dignity and rights? Many religions believe that all persons have dignity because they were created in the image of God and cloning violates this dignity. It also violates God’s intentions by choosing the genes of the children instead of leaving it up to God. Moreover, will it be possible to clone the human soul as well?

There are fears that clones may be treated as mere commodities or objects and might not be treated as equals or respected as unique individuals.

A black market for cloned embryo may also come up where issueless couples could buy the clone of an embryo.

The cloning may lead to malformations or diseases in the human clone as the technology is highly complicated and have greater risks and potentials for errors. It is worth mentioning that Dolly the sheep, was not produced at first attempt but after 277 attempts as a healthy viable lamb.

Cloning may encourage parents to compare their cloned child to the adult from whom it was cloned and therefore value their cloned children according to how well they meet expectations instead of loving them as they are. This will not only affect the quality of parenting and family life but will also impart a sense of diminished individuality and personal autonomy in a cloned individual besides disturbing the psychology as well.

Last but not the least, is the clone an offspring or a sibling? On the one hand, the relationship between an adult and the child cloned could be described as that of a parent and offspring. The clone accordingly then has one biological parent. On the other hand, clone is a sibling if it is considered as the genetically identical delayed twin. The clone in this case has two biological parents, not one — they are the same parents as those of a person from whom the adult cell was taken for the clone to be developed. The human cloning thus undermines the structure of a family by making identities and lineages ambiguous. This, in turn, raises certain legal complications in societies like ours.

The list of such ethical, moral, social, legal and biological issues is no doubt expanding day by day. There is, however, a great diversity of opinion over these issues posed by the possibility of human cloning. Dr lan Wilmut, the scientist credited with the first cloned mammal Dolly the sheep, called the cloning of humans "appalling". The 18-member panel of United States National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) created in 1995 by the then US President, Bill Clinton, to investigate the bioethical, legal and clinical issues related to human cloning reported in May, 1997, that human cloning is morally unacceptable for anyone in the public. The commission also stated that the President should continue with the moratorium on human cloning as it also has great deal of risk and uncertainty. The great deal of risk and uncertainty prevails even now. The scenario has not changed with time. Human cloning still looks unnecessary and immoral and is surely going to raise troubling questions in future as well.

The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology, Govt Medical College, Kangra (HP)


Sound waves as refrigerants
T.V. Parasuram

In a major leap, scientists have developed a technology that converts sound waves into refrigeration, which could lead to more environment-friendly and efficient household and industrial products.

The research team, led by Steven Garrett, professor of acoustics at Pennsylvania State University in College Park, says the thermoacoustics process, demonstrated at a conference, could be a viable alternative to chemical refrigerants.

Thermoacoustics can work both ways, by removing heat or adding heat. Scientists used tweaked loudspeakers to create high amplitude sound waves in the air.

The amplitude levels were far higher than those at rock concerts, where the decibel level is around 120 at 165 decibels, the sound level is intense and in the friction gas undergoes huge acoustic undulations.

In the thermoacoustic chilling system, Garrett’s team used 173 decibels and generated five kilowatts of power, the equivalent of nearly 7 horsepower, and managed to bring cooling temperatures down to 8 degrees below zero, well below the freezing point.

"Eventually, the day would come sooner when we may see thermoacoustic chillers in home refrigerators," Garrett told the media.

Ganesh Raman, an Indian associate professor in the mechanical, materials and aerospace engineering department at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago termed the research "revolutionary, exciting and a major leap that comes once in a while". PTI




Flexible flashlight

The high-intensity Krypton bulb of this flexible flashlight is encased in a waterproof head, and even lights under water if needed. It focuses from flood to spot beam, so it works for detailed jobs, as well as providing a wide general light source.

The flexible neck is nine inches long when fully extended, and wraps compactly around the case when not in use, which reduces it to a pocket-sized gadget, with a mounting clip for security. An extra bulb and an attachable red filter for subdued light are included.

Artificial retina work

Some visually impaired people soon could benefit from a microchip electrode array designed to stimulate the optic nerve with simple image information, researchers say.

The array, now the subject of $ 9 million in funding from the Department of Energy, would work on conditions such as macular degeneration, where the nerves still function but the eye is unable to transform light into signals the brain can interpret.

The Energy Department funding, spread over three years, will build on previous work supported by the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health’s Eye Institute, said Mark Humayun a retinal surgeon and a biomedical engineer who has led the project at the University of Southern California’s Doheny Eye Institute in Los Angeles. UPI

Of mice and men

Hey, are you a man of a mouse? From today, it may take a little longer to answer that question.

For a new study comparing genes between humans and mice concludes that there is just the slenderest numerical difference between Man and Mickey.

Both species have around 30,000 genes, but in both cases, only about 300 of them are unique. But it is that difference that determines whether we turn out to be Homo septens or Mus musculus.

The genetic similarities and distinctions have stunned researchers, who published the sequence and analysis of the mouse’s DNA code, or genome, in the British weekly journal Nature.

After a three-year endeavour which climaxed with publication in August, the Mouse Genome Sequencing Consortium unscrambled roughly 95 per cent of the 2.5 billion chemical "letters" in the mouse genetic code. AFP

"Methuselah genes"

Mice lacking a copy of an important metabolism gene live to the human equivalent of a century, according to new research on inherited longevity.

The gene encodes a protein called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), the study, published in Nature, the British weekly science journal, says.

Mice which had been genetically changed to lack one copy of this gene live on everage 26 per cent longer than normal counterparts, without any known side-effects, say the authors, led by Martin Holzenberger of the Hospital Saint-Antoine in Paris.

One reason for this appears to lie in oxidative stress, an ageing and disease-causing process by which cells are damaged by roving molecules with unpaired electrons. AFP

Energy from dead animals

Swedish companies have developed a way of burning dead farm animals that generates energy while reducing the risk of mad cow disease.

The Swedish Board of Agriculture said it would give $ 276,000 in grants to three companies developing the method, in which cadavers and animal byproducts are incinerated without the traditional step of first grinding them into meat and bone meal.

"We believe that this will be the future way of getting rid of this type of material," said Stig Widell, a spokesman for the state agency. "You just grind them down to minced meat and off they go into the furnace."

Avoiding the step of making meat and bone meal makes the process quicker. It also ensures cadavers and animal byproducts aren’t recycled for animal feed.

Mad cow disease, also known as bovine spongiform encephalopathy, is believed to spread through cattle feed that contains meat and bones from infected animals. AP






1. A system of high tension cables.

4. Natural Calcium Carbonate.

7. A disease producing organism.

9. A term to describe the position of a planet in its orbit.

10. Final section of large intestine.

12. Symbol for Osmium.

15. Angle between Earth’s magnetic field and the horizontal.

17. Short for secant as used in trigonometry.

18. A colourless solid acid of Osmium.

20. Semi solid lump of a coagulated liquid like blood.

22. Abbr. for a top European Observatory with its HQ in Germany.

23. A white amorphous soluble acid used in tanning work and in inks.


1. Large deposits formed by bodies of sea birds used as fertilizers.

2. ….black is obtained from animal charcoal.

3. A substance having molecules each of which comprises two molecules of a monomer.

4. This medium is a preparation to grow micro-organisms for experiments or tests.

5. SI unit of illumination.

6. An unit of speed.

8. An optically inactive & isomeric form of a substance exhibiting stereo-isomerism.

11. A detachable unit in a computer system.

13. Large airtight structures storing cement.

14. ….coil is a transformer to produce high voltage at high frequencies.

16. A tube used to measure the velocity of a fluid.

17. Lampblack.

19. An electrically charged ion.

21. Symbol for a transition metal called Technetium.

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