| Snuppy: New kid on the block
London, Aug. 5: Snuppy the Afghan puppy is the latest clone to join a menagerie of copycat creatures, from Dolly the sheep to Ralph the rat.
In the light of cloned mice, goats, horses, pigs, deer, carp and fruit flies, the creation of Snuppy by South Korea’s king of cloning, Wook-Suk Hwang, shows that there is no fundamental reason why humans cannot be cloned, though experiments to date underline how risky and inefficient the process is.
In one respect, cloned humans have been around since the dawn of humanity: an early human embryo can split to give identical twins. Such “natural” cloning was exploited by the first attempts to create a clone before “artificial” cloning ' by the process of nuclear transfer ' was developed.
Early cloning attempts relied on sea urchins, salamanders, frogs and other creatures which have big eggs that are delivered as spawn.
These cold-blooded pioneers were used to explore the biology of development to shed light on whether creatures were fully formed at the moment of fertilisation, and just grew, or if they developed from a single cell to the complex arrangement of billions in an adult.
Nuclear transfer was first used almost a century ago by the great German embryologist Hans Spemann, who used a delicate hair from Margrette, his baby daughter, as a noose to manipulate a newly fertilised salamander egg.
His 1938 masterwork, Embryonic Development and Induction, even proposed a “fantastical experiment” that would lay the basis for the creation of Dolly, the first clone of an adult mammal.
Evidence that all of the cells of an adult contained the recipe to make an individual was obtained in the 1950s by John Gurdon at Oxford University, who was trying to clone the African clawed frog Xenopus laevis. He created 30 albino frogs, cloned from the cells of an albino tadpole into the eggs of normally pigmented frogs.
One of his pupils, Chris Graham, wanted to develop nuclear transfer for mice and this marked the start of efforts to clone mammals that culminated in 1986 in the work of Steen Willadsen, an inventive Dane working in Cambridge.
His lambs were the first mammals to be cloned beyond any doubt by nuclear transfer and his work drove Ian Wilmut to create Dolly at the Roslin Institute, near Edinburgh.
Over the years, Hollywood has invested millions in cloning fantasies. In Woody Allen’s Sleeper, the cloning of a dictator was attempted from his only surviving body part: his nose. Two years later, carbon copy wives appeared in The Stepford Wives. Copies of Adolf Hitler starred in the 1978 movie The Boys From Brazil.
In 2000, Arnold Schwarzenegger has a spot of bother with his clone in The Sixth Day. Recently in The Island, Lincoln Six-Echo (Ewan McGregor) has been bred by a scientist (Sean Bean) for spare parts.
Although scientists will find the spare-part premise of The Island disgusting and daft, Wilmut is now working with Hwang to create cloned human embryos as a source of stem cells to understand disease, test treatments and even use stem cells for repair.
Based on Hwang’s experience with Snuppy, to go further to clone a baby would mean obtaining more than 1,000 fresh human eggs, which are in very short supply, and using them to create 1,000 cloned embryos.
If the Snuppy example holds true, these would then be implanted in 123 women. Of those surrogate mothers, all but one would risk the hurt and turmoil of the pregnancy failing, of miscarriages and deformed foetuses. Another problem with nuclear transfer is unusually big offspring. Wilmut also fears the psychological effects on a clone.
In short, despite Hollywood’s efforts to make it look easy, even a totalitarian dictator would find it tough to indulge a narcissistic cloning fantasy.