Revenge of the Cloned Sheep

The art of cloning is usually regarded by the average science layman as something that’s only found in science fiction. However, cloning is done naturally (horticultural in plants and parthenogenesis in animals) and also artificially (pretty much every animal you can think of has been cloned at least once). The science and technology behind cloning has been well established, what actually holds the process back (in particular, with human cloning) are the ethical implications and legislative restrictions. Not to say that these regulations are particularly misguided, as human cloning presents both scientific complications and societal questions which civilization may not be able to tackle at this moment in time. However, in a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away cloning was much more common and an integral part of military life. That’s right, we’re talking about Star Wars, let’s just look at the history of the clones as a refresher.

*Feel free to skip if you are allergic to nerd rambles*

In Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones it is revealed that a former Jedi Master Sifo-Dyas had commissioned the creation of clones from the planet Kamino (further supporting my theory that Jedi’s are actually the antagonists in the Star Wars Universe). The first troopers were cloned from the DNA of Jango Fett and were the main soldiers in the Army of the Republic. Near the end of the clone wars (a war where the Republic used the Clone Troopers to put down a rebellion by the separatists, SERIOUSLY, THESE ARE THE GOOD GUYS?!) the Clone Troopers betrayed their Jedi generals, slaughtered them, and went to the dark side (this is in Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith). The Empire now had control of the Clone Troopers and turned them into Storm Troopers (yes, there’s a difference), but Kamino (pretty much the Apple of the clone industry) then made new clones to rebel against the traitorous Clone/Storm Troopers. The Emperor was able to crush this rebellion, but very reasonably decided to discontinue the practice of using them as soldiers. The clones were then replaced by volunteer soldiers, which explains why they were so bad at shooting straight.

*The real science starts now*

Put simply, cloning is the process of creating an organism that is genetically identical to another organism. As mentioned before cloning is a pretty natural phenomenon, bacteria clone themselves during binary fission, two tulip bulbs from the same crops are clones, even identical twins are clonal! (The Olsen twins? Not clones! They’re actually not identical twins, crazy, right?). Artificial cloning is a process that was initially thought of in 1935 by Hans Spemann, a German embryologist, who won a Nobel prize when he successfully transferred the nucleus from one somatic cell (a non-sex cell) to another cell using amphibian embryos, this is called a “somatic cell nuclear transfer” (SCNT) and is the first step in reproducing a clone. SCNT entails taking a nucleus (the part of the cell that holds all of the genetic information) from a ‘donor cell’ (a mature somatic cell, this could be anything from a skin cell to a neuron) and inserting it into an egg (a sex cell, whose nucleus has been prematurely removed).

Let’s put this in terms of Star Wars: a skin cell from Jango Fett was taken by a scientist at Kamino, who then removed the nucleus from the cell, and inserted it into an nucleus free egg cell, implanted the egg, waited however long Fett’s take to gestate and thus Boba was born! This experiment, (but with sheep, rather than aliens), was preformed successfully in 1996. A cell from an udder was taken from a six year old female sheep (an ewe or whatever), engineered into an egg cell, and transplanted into a surrogate ewe (the first ewe already did enough for the project). Now, this may sound simple, and you’re probably feeling like I’m repeating the procedure too much, but in reality this process took 434 tries before it became a successful embryo! But after all of these failed attempts a normal healthy lamb was born, who was named Dolly. Dolly because she was cloned from a mammary cell, and Dolly Parton has ‘ample cleavage’ (as wikipedia likes to call it).

391px-Dolly_clone.svg

So, have humans ever been cloned? That answer is complicated. In 1998 a group of scientists in South Korea claimed to successfully clone a human, however, the project was shut down supposedly and the clone only made it to a cluster of four cells. A religious group who claimed that extraterrestrials created the human race claimed to have engineered a girl named Eve, but no evidence was ever presented (for the clone thing at least). South Korea tried to claim the creation of the first human clone again, but this paper was retracted when they couldn’t show any data to support the claim. So, what holds us back from human cloning? Well, it’s an ethical dilemma for sure, but it’s also more scientifically complicated than cloning a sheep. Scientifically, cloning primates is difficult due to the necessity of spindle proteins, which are essential to division, being very close to the chromosomes that is taken out with the nucleus. Spindle proteins in other animals are more further away from the nucleus, and thus removing the nucleus doesn’t take away the cell’s ability to divide.

Though the possibility of being able to grow new organs for those on the transplant list is tempting, it also raises a lot of questions like: will clones have human rights? Can clones ever be accepted into society? And most importantly, what would we do with all the evil Clone Troopers?

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