Is there evidence of human clones

Vienna Journal: Can we clone just because we can?

The lamb, which was born on July 5, 1996 in the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh in Scotland, initially only bore the number 6LL3. Only later was it named after the country singer Dolly Parton, who had a lush bust, because the cell used for cloning came from the udder of a sheep. But nobody was concerned about the questionable basis for the naming, after all the sheep was a sensation and the name was secondary - Dolly was the first mammal to be successfully cloned from adult cells by means of Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT).

The primary thought behind it, however, was not to make an (almost) identical copy of the sheep from which the cells came, but whether in cells that had already taken on a certain function within the body (e.g. skin or muscle cells) all genetic information was stored or whether it is lost during differentiation during embryo development. (It should also be the first step towards a method to genetically modify a sheep so that it produces proteins with therapeutic effects in its milk - a transgenic animal for gene pharming. This was achieved in 1997 at the Roslin Institute with the sheep Polly .) But something else was much more important to the public - could one now also make copies of people? There is still no cloned person as far as it is known, but scientists in China proudly announced in November 2018 that two genetically modified babies were born healthy

More than 20 years later, the technology of cell nuclear transfer has hardly developed any further, and it is still associated with high failure rates and, in some cases, major health risks for the surrogate mothers and, above all, the clones themselves. However, SCNT clones are still used for the "reproduction" of excellent breeding animals in livestock breeding. A relatively young market has developed for pets: dogs, cats or horses whose owners expect either financial benefits from a clone (for example with successful racehorses or also camels) or want a copy of the beloved pet for later, this can cost a lot - and companies in Italy, France, China, the USA or Australia can already make a profitable living from it.

The animal as a means to an end

However, it is no longer just about cloning, but also about genetic modifications of the genetic material that lead to the production and reproduction of so-called transgenic animals. Biomedical research in particular makes use of transgenic animals - for gene pharming and as a disease model. In the former, medicinal substances are extracted from the body fluids; in the latter, the introduction of human genes into animal genetic material creates disease patterns similar to humans in animals (such as Alzheimer's disease or muscular dystrophy) in order to be able to observe progressions. Research hopes that this will lead to the development of therapies. But transgenic animals are also used for xenotransplantation in order to obtain tissue and organs such as the heart or lungs for transplantation into the human body. Pigs have proven to be particularly well suited because their organs are physiologically very similar to their human counterparts and the genetic modification of their genetic make-up minimizes the risk of the organ being rejected.

In all of this, human interests are undeniably in the foreground, aspects such as animal welfare are subordinate to them. In addition to human ethicists, animal ethicists have become an indispensable part of this discussion and have not only contributed themselves and their ideas, but in some countries have given legislation a decisive direction in terms of taking animal interests into account. The Swiss philosopher and ethicist Samuel Camenzind, who is currently working in Vienna at the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine, is also researching moral questions of the human-animal relationship. "The question of animal ethics is how should we behave towards animals? These are complex questions that contain both scientific and ethical aspects," he emphasized in an interview with the "Wiener Journal".

In 2010 he prepared an expert opinion on behalf of the Federal Ethics Commission for Biotechnology in the Extra-Human Area (ECNH): "The cloning of animals - an ethical interpretation" is the first ever investigation of ethical aspects in the matter of cloning and genetic engineering in animals. Camenzind explains the three positions for an ethical order of interpretation - anthropocentric, sentientistic and non-sentientistic. Anthropocentrics give man a special moral position; the "consumption" of animals for science, their suffering and death are of no importance to him, entirely in the sense of "the end justifies the means". The sentientist counts all sentient beings as morally to be considered beings. If an action leads to suffering for a being, it is at least morally problematic. Non-sentientists also consider the dignity of animals / creatures: In addition to suffering or burdens, humiliation, interference with the external appearance or instrumentalisation are included in the moral evaluation.

The dignity of the creature

This attitude was also represented by the animal welfare ethicist Gotthard Teutsch, who died in 2009: in his book of the same name (1995) he offers a number of arguments for the fact that animals - and indeed everyone - deserves a rank that arises from fellow creature. All living beings have, as Teutsch concludes on the basis of the evaluated sources, both an equal and a different dignity. The more highly organized life is and the more opportunities it has to develop and shape, the more diverse ways its dignity can be affected. According to Teutsch, she will be injured if one does not accept the animals' "being different" and "being like that". According to these considerations, animals are also injured in their dignity if they are viewed primarily as a means and too little as an end in themselves. Camenzind also sees it this way, for example when it comes to the cloning of pets: "Do I only love the clone because of its resemblance to the original animal and not because of its individuality? Do I respect the creature for its own sake or only because it has a substitute function." Fulfills?"

So if "The Great Ape Project" or the Basel Primate Initiative demands basic rights for primates just because they are the closest relatives of humans, isn't that unequal treatment if all animals have dignity? "Strictly speaking, from an egalitarian point of view, yes, but Swiss legislation in particular allows for a hierarchical position," says Camenzind. But the process of rethinking is slow, and anthropocentric views still prevail in many places. But the pendulum has already turned in the direction of sentientism, the ethicist is convinced. This can be seen from the fact that animal welfare is protected in many legislations.

What does religion say

Critics see both cloning and genetic modification of living things as a possible reduction in biodiversity. Gotthard Teutsch also sees genetic engineering as a particular threat because, in contrast to traditional breeding, it also enables unusual crossings. In this there is even a certain support in Christianity, because the Bible emphasizes precisely the diversity of life as a special gift from God.

The artificial reduction through the creation of identical living beings would thus be a step against the God-given. "I prefer to leave God out of the picture because the burden of justification to prove God (which one?) Is too great," says Camenzind. "But religion undoubtedly influences ethical approaches." The question arises as to whether xenotransplantation with tissues or organs from pigs would be morally permissible in religions in which the pig is regarded as an unclean animal.

Revival of primeval times

At least since "Jurassic Park", the films about a "zoo" with cloned dinosaurs (and what the consequences are when they break out of their enclosures), the woolly mammoth has appeared again and again. The 2015 book by US evolutionary biologist Beth Shapiro, "How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction", attracted worldwide attention on the subject of the "re-extermination" of extinct animals. The biologist Britt Wray followed up in 2017 with "Rise of the Necrofauna" (German: "The mammoth from the freezer", 2018): She asked various scientists about their theories and the possibilities of cloning the woolly mammoth (Asian elephant cows should be used as surrogate mothers for this purpose to settle back in Siberia. At the same time, however, she asks whether it would not make more sense to use time, money and technology to combat the current extinction of species.

"That is a nice thought, but in my opinion currently unrealistic and ethically problematic, because the risk, especially from a health point of view, is far too great for the mammoth clone. In addition, the habitats from then have long been changed, so the animal would probably have to go to the zoo And here we are back to ethics - what does that mean for the animal? And what does the mammoth mean for humans? Can we meet his needs as a herd animal? Can we instrumentalize it? There we are again with the dignity of the creature. I also think that the currently threatened species should be dealt with first and then eradicated again, "says Camenzind.

So far, Switzerland is the only country that has anchored the dignity of creatures at constitutional level in law (animal dignity has now also been anchored by Liechtenstein and Luxembourg), so there is a lot of catching up to do worldwide in this regard before one probably deals with prehistoric animals ...

In the end, it comes down to one question - regardless of whether we clone livestock or pets, clone animals for biomedical research or xenotransplants and genetically modify them, or want to bring back extinct animals: are we allowed to just because we can? Should we just because we can? Or do we see ethics, morals and our responsibility towards living beings as the top priority?