Society is much more relaxed about the idea of cloning plants when compared to cloning animals. Some people see this technology as way to mimic natural processes since an identical twin is essentially a clone that happens thorough natural reproductive methods. The difference is that a plant doesn’t always get the benefit of the doubt for having intelligence or a soul like animals do.
Dolly the Sheep was a successful experiment because scientists found that they could produce offspring from an undifferentiated cell through nuclear transfer. We have used this method to improve the animal cloning processes for other species, but the cost of following this process for commercial purposes is still way too high.
When we examine the advantages and disadvantages of cloning animals, we must balance the need to push evolution along while still providing diversity in genetic structures. We already know that entire monocrops get wiped out when disease impacts agriculture, so the same outcome is quite likely when we take the same approach with the animal kingdom.
List of the Advantages of Cloning Animals
1. Cloning animals would allow us to balance environmental habitats.
Our planet is flexible in its ability to sustain like, but we are learning that our ecosystems have less elasticity. If an animal becomes extinct or disappears because their habitat does not support life in needed ways, then the outcomes in the local region can be very dramatic. Yellowstone National Park saw a more significant erosion of their riverbeds when wolf populations started declining, and that is one example of many.
Cloning could encourage us to restore this equilibrium by replacing or even reintroducing cloned animals that are either extinct or endangered.
2. Cloning animals would create more security in the global food supply.
There will be somewhere between 9 billion to 10 billion people living on our planet by the year 2050 if current population trends continue. That figure could double in the century after. It is up to us to figure out how to solve that hunger crisis today so that tomorrow’s generations can flourish. Cloning animals is a reasonable approach that could help to stabilize our supply of animal-based proteins.
Although this advantage won’t solve hunger by itself, a higher level of food availability will reduce conflicts, encourage innovation, and push scientists toward the innovative results that are likely necessary for the future.
3. Cloning animals could advance scientific discoveries in other fields.
The scientific processes that allow us to clone animals could be useful in the duplication of specific cells found throughout the body. We could potentially take the techniques discovered in this field to produce new tissues or organs as needed. It wouldn’t place the life of the animal in danger, and the information gained from these processes could create new breakthroughs in the area of human medical science. We could evaluate the cloned cells to determine the usefulness of each process to determine how progression can occur in these fields.
4. Cloning animals could help pet parents find greater comfort.
Losing a pet hurts as much as it does because these animals often become family members. The presence of cats, dogs, and others add structure to our daily routines. These companions help to keep us active, and they can even support us in our efforts to overcome the roadblocks that happen in life.
Pets give us purpose. The processes of cloning animals would allow people to protect their memories of a beloved companion with an identical animal created by scientists. This effort would still create a unique animal for the species, but it would also offer some continuity and support that could lessen emotional reactions.
5. Cloning animals does not create exact duplication.
When we clone animals, there is not an exact duplication that occurs. The genetic material gets put into an embryo that contains unique cells. These processes then make it possible for the clone to produce offspring later in life. The work that scientists performed with Dolly the Sheep created six lambs in total as she was bred with a Welsh Mountain ram. The first was named Bonnie, and she was born in 1998.
Then Dolly had twins that her caregivers called Rosie and Sally. In the fall of 2001, she would have triplets that were called Cotton, Darcy, and Lucy. Those offspring were not sterile as some researchers predicted, showing the full potential of what this scientific process could create.
6. Cloning animals allows us to preserve endangered species.
Researchers were able to save the Przewalski’s horse only because 13 horses were captured from a wild herd and kept in a zoo in the 1940s. Even then, two of the horses were hybrids. Standard breeding practices helped to save the species, which now counts in the thousands of individuals.
We won’t have the same kind of luck with the Northern White Rhino. The last known male of the species died in March 2018. With only two females of the same subspecies currently living, the only way to save them is through the cloning process. This work gives us the ability to preserve endangered animals – and maybe even bring extinct ones back into our world.
7. Cloning animals gives us the opportunity to produce the most desirable traits.
When scientists work on animal cloning, they are doing what others have done through selective breeding for more than 1,000 years. The outcomes are similar to what we can achieve through natural reproductive processes that include human interference. This work is a chance to create precise, desired traits in animals.
We might use animal cloning to produce dairy cows that offer more milk. Researchers could look at the idea of cloning specific hens as a way to improve commercial egg production. Livestock animals could be bred through this process to produce more meat per carcass. The applications are almost limitless when we look at the full potential of this technology.
8. Cloning animals could help us to reduce human disease.
One of the most problematic illnesses that humans battle each season is influenza. Flu epidemics have killed millions of people in the past, especially when a new strain of the virus begins to circulate through the population. About 1 in 5 people will get sick with it each year, even with the availability of annual vaccines to prevent it.
The flu virus originates in birds, pigs, and other animal species. Our animal cloning processes could work to stop its development by creating more resiliency against its activity when it forms. It’s an opportunity to stop the adverse impacts of disease before it even gets a chance to begin.
9. Cloning animals would not impact the quality of the food supply.
Rulings in 2008 from research at the time found that it is safe for people to consume animal products from cloned species. The FDA ruled that any livestock species can enter the commercial food chain. That means scientists can look for ways to improve the nutrient profile of the proteins we consume so that everyone has a chance to eat healthier without changing their habits. Think of this advantage as the beef version of working with enriched flour.
List of the Disadvantages of Cloning Animals
1. Cloning animals is the least effective way to produce offspring.
The success rate of the nuclear transfer method for animal cloning currently stands at 1%. That means about one embryo out of every 100 will be in a quality suitable enough for implantation. Once scientists reach this stage, the viability of the offspring is still questionable, with many of the embryos spontaneously aborting during the pregnancy. Getting an animal that is the quality of Dolly is about a 1 in 500 shot.
Even when the cloning process is successful, the health of the offspring is often questionable. About 1 in 4 bovines end up suffering from edema, and there can be fetal size issues that can impact the health of the mother. Our success rates in this area are improving, but they are nowhere near where they need to be for this to be a commercially viable process.
2. Cloning animals is expensive.
If you have a prized bull that you want to clone, then the cost will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000. That’s the cheapest price you’ll currently find from reputable providers of this service. You could create a duplicate of your cat for about $25,000, but replicating the beloved family dog is going to be double that rate.
Scientists have found ways to clone horses as well, but you’ll pay just as much for a clone (if not more) than you would for a championship line Thoroughbred. Wealthy individuals and corporations might benefit from this science today, but it isn’t in the price range for the average family.
3. Cloning animals reduces the genetic diversity of that species.
When animals come from the same genetic profile, then a reduction in diversity occurs at the genetic level. This process may not impact the overall health of the species at first, but it can cause long-term problems if it were to continue. The likelihood of genetic disease and other health issues rises when parents with similar genetics have offspring.
When there isn’t genetic variation, then a population loses the ability to respond to changing environmental variables. Even though cloning is meant to save a species, this disadvantage can lead them closer to extinction or population decline.
4. Cloning animals would eventually slow the rate of reproduction.
Animals that have the highest levels of genetic similarity tend to have the lowest rate of reproduction. We already see this disadvantage taking place with cheetahs, who as a species shares 99% of their genome with other individuals. Male cats have low sperm production rates, and there is little genetic variety passed along when mating is successful. Severe congenital disabilities occur frequently with cubs.
Cloning animals would produce a similar outcome. Breeding programs with cheetahs are already unsuccessful, so it is not unreasonable to think a similar problem would occur with other species.
5. Cloning animals has a history of creating abnormal pregnancies.
Almost half (45%) of the pregnancies that animal cloning techniques produce fail by the third trimester. When compared to the experiences from natural reproduction methods, the results are more significant and place the mother’s life in more danger. Even when a pregnancy comes to term using a cloned embryo, it is more common for a C-section to be necessary. Dystocia and development abnormalities also appear more often, creating a higher risk of losing the mother during the birthing process.
6. Cloning animals can create long-term health issues to manage.
Although advancements in animal cloning are reducing this risk, the older methods of reprogramming cells didn’t always reset the biological clock. Dolly the Sheep had shorter telomeres than others of her species, and this genetic trait may have been a contributing factor to her living six years instead of the expected nine.
Cloned animals can experience life-threatening health issues at any time because the cell programming can alter their genetic profile. This process can reduce reproductive capabilities in some species, and some outcomes don’t have a known cause.
7. Cloning animals could result in sterility issues.
This disadvantage is another issue that is coming to a resolution in the near future, but it still impacts the current generation of animal clones. When scientists create a clone, then there is a higher risk that the animal will not have the capability of producing offspring. If that impairment doesn’t exist, the risk factors stay higher than they do with natural reproduction for the next generation.
In the cases when offspring can be born from reproductive efforts, the risks of congenital disability stay high until the second generation – what we would call “grandchildren.” We also have no long-term data about how family lines could be impacted by cloning processes.
8. Cloning animals could result in unforeseen consequences.
Restoring life to our planet seems like a worthy goal on paper, but it could produce more harm than good in some situations. An extinction from centuries ago altered the natural habitats so that the world could adjust to the change. Introducing wooly mammoths back into society could create massive problems with animal management in the wild. Even small introductions, like the dodo bird, could create problems with homeostasis.
We have no way to know how modern diseases would impact the ancient creatures we might try to revive through cloning. It could cause viruses to mutate, introduce new pathogens, or expose people to harmful bacteria.
9. Cloning animals could eventually lead to cloning humans.
There is no supporting scientific evidence to suggest that a cloned human embryo exists, although genetic alteration reports have come from China in 2019. Cloning humans is more complicated than it is for other mammals because of the location of spindle proteins on the chromosomes.
Removing the nucleus removes these proteins. That process causes interference with cell division. As our technologies improve, the science that leads to better animal cloning could lead to improved human cloning techniques. Then we would need to start answering the deep philosophical questions that come when taking such an action.
10. Cloning animals could result in more cancer-related issues.
The activity of stem cells is similar to the behaviors of many cancers. Both have the ability to continue dividing almost indefinitely. When we look at the idea of cloning, we know that there is a limit of about 60 division cycles before detrimental mutations can start forming. That means our ability to clone animals is restricted to a specific number before the odds start shrinking even more. If that information translates to humans, then there could be limitations to the number of feasible medical treatments using this technology.
11. Cloning animals leads to higher levels of embryo destruction.
Scientists created Dolly the Sheep by implanting almost 300 cloned embryos over time. Despite all of that work, only 13 total pregnancies occurred. Less than 20% of nuclear transfers that involve somatic cells will develop into an embryo, and only half of them that reach this stage are of a high enough quality to qualify for implantation.
Even if animal cloning is only useful for therapeutic purposes, the destruction of the embryo would be necessary. That means we are destroying the potentiality of life in favor of what currently exists.
It took several years for scientists to produce their first viable animal clone. The results from this work have led to Nobel Prizes being awarded to researchers as the ability to reprogram mature cells into pluripotent ones became known. The secrets from Dolly are still being unlocked, including the ability of an egg’s natural built-in mechanism to rejuvenate cells.
We may not fully understand animal cloning processes right now, but we do know that all signs of chronological and biological age get restored when offspring are born.
The advantages and disadvantages of cloning animals show us that there are still some challenges to face in getting beyond the perinatal period. We can still make these processes better. As science progresses, we may find that many of the disadvantages listed here could eventually disappear.
Keith Miller has over 25 years experience as a CEO and serial entrepreneur. As an entreprenuer, he has founded several multi-million dollar companies. As a writer, Keith's work has been mentioned in CIO Magazine, Workable, BizTech, and The Charlotte Observer. If you have any questions about the content of this blog post, then please send our content editing team a message here.