Day 081 - Cloning

Submitted by Sam on 10 August, 2011 - 03:05

Induced pluripotent stem cells, or iPS cells, are artificially induced stem cells which resemble embryonic stem cells, and they may just hold the key to the much-needed revolution in regenerative medicine, promising patient-specific cell-types which can be used to grow tailor-made replacement organs and tissues.

In 2009, two independent Chinese teams made the announcement that they had taken skin cells from mice (which are already specialized, and not stem cells) and successfully chemically treated them into de-differentiating into pluripotent stells cells, tricking them, in effect, into thinking they had just been born and reprogramming them into a pluripotent state.

As each cell in a body contains that body's entire genome, each cell contains the genetic code necessary to create every single body part, and thus has the ability to create a complete copy of the entire body. Not only did the researchers de-differentiate the mice skin cells, but they also used new techniques to allow these stem cells to re-grow, differentiate once again and create a whole new living mouse. Xiao Xiao, the first of twenty-seven such mice to be created using the process, has since been seen as a landmark step in the future of stem-cell therapy, not least because she and her siblings were able to mate and give birth to healthy offspring, who in turn produced new generations of mice themselves. The success of this procedure suggests that one day humans could, in theory, take a cell from anywhere in their bodies and create full, fertile clones of themselves. In a genetic sense, this procedure could allow each one of our cells to make an immortal line of clones of ourselves.

The desirability of human cloning leads to some obvious questions, which Juan Enriquez and Steve Gullans have summed up, starting with the most basic, 'do we really want to clone ourselves?'. The first consideration in answering this question is how safe and reproducible the technology for doing so is, which, if satisfied, leads on to more philosophical questions, such as 'have I mated to produce children whose genome improves the species more than my own?'. As Enriquez and Gullans put it, “are your kids better than you?” – if they are, then you don't have a strong case for cloning yourself. When the cloning question gets really interesting, though, is when we consider the possibility of mind-uploading and downloading. If we could save our mind and experiences, and continuously copy it into new bodies over the centuries, the idea of cloning suddenly becomes mythically attractive.

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