Animals are cloned in one of two ways. The first is called embryo twinning.
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Scientists first split an embryo in half. Each part of the embryo develops into a unique animal, and the two animals share the same genes. The second method is called somatic cell nuclear transfer. Somatic cells are all the cells that make up an organism, but that are not sperm or egg cells. Somatic cells, on the other hand, already contain two full sets of chromosomes. The egg develops into an embryo that contains the same genes as the cell donor.
In , Scottish scientists cloned the first animal, a sheep they named Dolly. She was cloned using an udder cell taken from an adult sheep. Since then, scientists have cloned cows, cats, deer, horses, and rabbits. They still have not cloned a human, though. In part, this is because it is difficult to produce a viable clone. In each attempt, there can be genetic mistakes that prevent the clone from surviving. It took scientists attempts to get Dolly right. There are also ethical concerns about cloning a human being.
Researchers can use clones in many ways. An embryo made by cloning can be turned into a stem cell factory. Stem cells are an early form of cells that can grow into many different types of cells and tissues. Scientists can turn them into nerve cells to fix a damaged spinal cord or insulin-making cells to treat diabetes. The cloning of animals has been used in a number of different applications. Animals have been cloned to have gene mutations that help scientists study diseases that develop in the animals. One big challenge endangered species face is the loss of genetic diversity, and cloning does nothing to address this problem.
When a species has high genetic diversity, there is a better chance that some individuals would have genetic variations that could help them survive an environmental challenge such as an infectious disease. Cloning also does not address the problems that put the species in danger in the first place, such as habitat destruction and hunting. But cloning may be one more tool that conservation scientists can add to their toolbox.
Left: the alpine ibex, a close cousin of the Bucardo. Right: the last remaining Bucardo with the research team before her eventual death. She was blindfolded to shield her eyes from the photographer's flash. Image courtesy of Advanced Cell Technology.
If you really wanted to, and if you had enough money, you could clone your beloved family cat. At least one biotechnology company in the United States has offered cat cloning services for the privileged and bereaved. But don't assume that your cloned kitty will be exactly the same as the one you know and love. An individual is a product of more than its genes—the environment plays an important role in shaping personality and many other traits.
On December 22, , a kitten named CC made history as the first cat—and the first domestic pet—ever to be cloned.
CC and Rainbow, the donor of CC's genetic material, are pictured at the right. But do you notice something odd about this picture?
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If CC is a clone of Rainbow—an exact genetic copy—then why are they different colors? The answer lies in the X chromosome. In cats, a gene that helps determine coat color resides on this chromosome. Both CC and Rainbow, being females, have two X chromosomes. Males have one X and one Y chromosome. Since the two cats have the exact same X chromosomes, they have the same two coat color genes, one specifying black and the other specifying orange. Very early in her development, each of Rainbow's cells "turned off" oneentire X chromosome, thereby turning off either the black or the orange color gene.
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This process, called X-inactivation, happens normally in females, in order to prevent them from having twice as much X-chromosome activity as males. It also happens randomly, meaning that different cells turn off different X chromosomes. So like all female mammals, Rainbow developed as a mosaic. Each cell that underwent X-inactivation gave rise to a patch of cells that had oneor the other coat color gene inactivated.
Some patches specified black,other patches specified orange, and still others specified white, due to more complex genetic events. This is how all calico cats, like Rainbow, get their markings. CC looks different because she was made from a somatic cell from Rainbow in which the X-chromosome with the orange gene had been inactivated; only the black gene was active. What's interesting is that, as CC developed, her cells did not change the inactivation pattern. Therefore, unlike Rainbow, CC developed without any cells that specified orange coat color.
The result is CC's black and white tiger-tabby coat. Rainbow and CC are living proof that a clone will not look exactly like the donor of its genetic material. Programs are underway to clone agricultural animals, such as cattle and pigs, that are efficient producers of high-quality milk or meat. A group of researchers at Utah State University led by Dr. Their aim isn't to produce animals for consumption—cloning is far more labor-intensive and expensive than conventional breeding methods.
Instead, they want to use these animals as breeding stock.
The important thing to know about beef cattle is that the quality and yield of their meat can be assessed only after they are slaughtered. And male animals are routinely neutered when they're a few days old. This is the principle of competition.
Cloning Fact Sheet | NHGRI
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