Ever since evolution, man has been involved in the process of creation, making new inventions that are at times amazing and revolutionary. But nothing is as awe inspiring as his desire to create another living object that is not conceived in the manner nature intended to, that is asexually. In the vocabulary of the scientists, it is called cloning.

Cloning is not a recent development but an idea that seems to have developed way back in history during the period of Mahabharata. The epic that mentions creating a hundred sons from a lump of flesh could only be referring to what we called cloning in today’s age.

Research on cloning has been going on in laboratories for the last twenty-five years, with little progress made. It made headlines only in 1997 when Ian Wilmut created history with the birth of Dolly, the sheep, by cloning him from an adult ewe using a nuclear transfer technique that he had developed. Ian Wilmut repeated his experiment seven times thereafter and proved that Dolly was not a fluke. In 1999, the Japanese too succeeded in creating a male mouse called Fibro from somatic cells.

The birth of Dolly was fraught with both excitement and apprehensions. Many welcomed it, as a revolutionary technique that could help generate healthy farm animals while others feared this attempt of man to play ‘God’.

Cloning can be of three types, DNA, therapeutic and reproductive. In DNA cloning, the desired DNA fragment is transferred from an organism to a self-replicating genetic element for generating multiple copies of the same gene. Therapeutic cloning depends upon stem cells. Stem cells that are found in a pre-embryo body are used to produce tissues or even a complete organ for transplanting back into the DNA donor.

Reproductive cloning is how Dolly was born. It is used to generate a complete organism from an existing one using the Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer technique such that the generated organism has the same nuclear DNA as the donor organism.

Amazing though it sounds, cloning as a technique is not free of limitations. Dolly was diagnosed with progressive lung disease and premature ageing and had to be euthanized. The success rate of cloning is very low and chances of the clone being born with some debilitating condition are very high. However, in spite of the controversies, cloning has been welcomed by scientists for its potential to make a big difference to modern medicine.

Cloning promises to make it possible to ‘manufacture’ organs making donation of organs redundant. Stem cells can be used to treat serious diseases like Parkinson’s disease, diabetes and Thalassemia. However, man must resist the temptation to embark upon indiscriminate and large scale cloning as it could lead to an outbreak of diseases and eventually destroy entire species.

As for human cloning, the technique is too nascent and full of unanswered questions to be tried. Moreover, it isn’t just a scientific debate but one that has many ethical issues attached to it. Man must learn to use cloning wisely else he could become a victim of his own experiment gone wrong.