Cloning is the process of taking genetic information from one living thing and creating identical copies of it. The copied material is called a clone. Geneticists have cloned cells, tissues, genes and entire animals. Although this process may seem futuristic, nature has been doing it for millions of years. For example, identical twins have almost identical DNA, and asexual reproduction in some plants and organisms can produce genetically identical offspring. And scientists make genetic doubles in the lab, though the process is a little different.
There are three different types of cloning, according to the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI): Gene cloning, also called DNA cloning, creates copies of genes, or segments of DNA. Reproductive cloning makes duplicates of whole animals. Therapeutic cloning creates embryonic stem cells, which are used to create tissues that can repair or replace damaged tissues.
In reproductive cloning, a genetic engineer removes a mature somatic cell (any cell except for reproductive cells) from an organism and transfers the DNA into an egg cell that has had its own DNA removed, according to the NHGRI. Then, the egg is jump-started chemically to start the reproductive process. Finally, the egg is implanted into the uterus of a female of the same species as the egg. The mother gives birth to an animal that has the same genetic makeup as the animals that donated the somatic cell. This was the process that produced Dolly the sheep.
Since Dolly, many more animal clones have been born, and the process is becoming more mainstream. Research has also been conducted on human-cell cloning. Several companies are currently providing services that use cloning technology. For example, South Korea-based Sooam Biotech clones pets for around $100,000. And a Texas-based company, Viagen Pets, clones cats for $25,000 and dogs for $50,000.
There are many other applications for cloning. The movie “Jurassic Park” stirred the public’s imagination and asked the question, “Can we use cloning to bring back extinct species through cloning?” For this process to be successful, scientists would need living DNA from the extinct animal and a living animal egg that is closely related to the extinct creature.
On July 30, 2003, a group of scientists led by Jose Folch at the Center of Food Technology and Research of Aragon, in northern Spain, brought back an extinct wild goat called a bucardo, or Pyrenean ibex. The cloned animal lived for only 10 minutes, according to National Geographic, but the scientists proved that an extinct animal could be brought back. Researchers at Harvard are currently working to clone woolly mammoths.
In January 2018, scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences published the birth of Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua, the first macaques cloned by the Dolly method. Chinese researchers created the first cloned monkeys copied from a genetically modified specimen, which carries an altered gene related to the biological clock. This advance illustrates one of the greatest current uses of reproductive cloning: the creation of experimental animal models for the study of diseases. In a conversation with OpenMind, George Seidel, Professor Emeritus from Colorado State University (USA) and a biotechnology expert in animal reproduction, explained that the advantage of SCNT in these cases is that “one does all of the molecular biology work with cells in vitro, and when the desired change is made, one uses the cells to make a clone with the desired change, and that animal can then be used for making additional animals from more conventional breeding methods.”
Some of the general medical applications of cloning could obviously be useful to the military too – cloning organisms engineered to produce useful proteins, and production of stem cells, or even grow .
Mlitary and police dogs like Malinois, German Shepherd, Belgian Shepherd, and Labradors are specially trained for their jobs. Only some dogs are up to the task, but like training seeing-eye guide dogs, it’s difficult to know in advance and many dogs will wash out of training as expensive failures, with even fewer being able to handle the extreme life of a Special Forces dog; then they may get injured on the job, develop hip dysplasia or cancer, cutting short their career, and leading to perennial shortages. If you have a successful SF dog… maybe the clone will be much more likely to succeed than a random puppy picked from one of the usual breeders, and you can make as many clones as necessary long after the original has gone to Dog Heaven. In 2014, Bloomberg reported on an interesting aspect of Sooam Biotech, the famous South Korean dog cloning company: they were cloning a Special Forces dog.
Militaries also want to clone their perfect soldiers so that they can produce an undefeatable army. However with current technology limitations, clones need to be grown therefore they have to wait until the clones have grown mature enough and they are sufficiently trained so they are feasibly ready for work or combat. In addition, neither the scientific community or the legislation of many countries have approved the creation of cloned humans.
Another great application, once we’ve progressed enough that we can rapidly age individuals and create an instantaneous carbon copy of someone important, say, the US ambassador to Russia, and clone them. The clone would be a decoy, say on dangerous trips or urgent meetings. This could greatly increase security, practical applications, and health for both, as one is not more stressed than the other (This is assuming that the good interpersonal skills and ability for diplomacy could be taught rapidly).
China’s Sinogene Biotechnology Company has unveiled the nation’s first cloned cat, however, it says the next level will be to use artificial intelligence to transfer memories from a beloved pet to its clone. Sinogene’s general manager told attendees at a press conference in August 2019 that “to make the cloned animal share the same memories with the original, the company is considering the use of artificial intelligence or man-machine interface technology to store them or even pass the memories to cloned animals,” wrote the Global Times, a paper run by the Chinese communist party.
Therefore cloning has got a lot of great possibilities, like stunt doubling in politics, mass-produced superarmies, distractions and decoys, etc., but the ethical and technological issues behind them are so prohibitive that feasible and efficient military cloning technology will be hard to find for quite a while.