‘Clone Wars’ not science fiction

A new technology could save countless lives in the future, but many fear it would cross a boundary human beings were not meant to cross. That’s why Tri-Beta organized “Clone Wars,” a lecture weighing the risks and benefits of emerging cloning technology.

Among the guest lecturers from UM were Daniel Wang, a genetics and biology professor, Stephen Sapp, chair of the religious studies department, and Luis Glaser, professor of biochemistry and biology.

“Cloning is here,” Elizabeth Delvalle, Tri-Beta president, said. “People are interested in issues like cloning organs and they need to hear about it.”

She added that the three professors brought up many pertinent problems and questions so that young people, who will one day make the legal decisions on cloning, can be informed.

Wang told of the applications with which scientists have already started experimenting. He gave the example of a person with Severe Combined Immunodeficiency Syndrome (SCID): People with this disease are sometimes known as “bubble people,” who must live in a bubble to survive.

SCID patients need an enzyme their bodies do not produce. However, scientists can clone an enzyme, put it in a disabled retrovirus, disseminate the retrovirus into a culture of the patient’s blood, then implant the blood with the enzyme into the patient. The patient would then begin to produce the enzyme on his own.

But these techniques have a low success rate so far, Wang said. Combined with the small amount of funding, cloning technology will not make it to the market for many years to come.

“Such promising techniques have such limited resources,” Wang said.

Glaser weighed the medical risks of cloning. One risk is that by cloning humans or animals, viruses that are highly infectious for the original animal would then be highly infectious for the clones. So instead of a virus killing some people or animals, all those people or animals and their clones could be killed.

But Glaser also said that in college students’ lifetimes, the success rate for cloning would go from 1 in 1,000 to 1 in 5. That would mean current students would make the decisions on whether cloning is acceptable.

Sapp, dressed as Obi Wan Kenobi in accordance with the Star Wars title of the lecture, asked the question: “Is human cloning an indication of the human race going to the dark side?”

He said the religious perspective, not just the Christian side, tends to challenge the assumptions of those who support cloning. For example, scientific-minded people think that if a test subject agrees to experimental technology, there are no ethical concerns.

But that is not necessarily so, Sapp said.

In addition, Sapp differentiated between therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning. Reproductive cloning is less likely to succeed, Sapp said, because it represents a boundary that most humans feel they should not cross.

But therapeutic cloning, including stem cell therapy, has a good chance of becoming a reality because the benefits are more appealing to Americans than the negative side, such as using human embryos to perform the therapy.

“Clone Wars has helped answer the question: ‘Is cloning based on ego or is it based on scientific help?'” Delvalle said. “In the future, when the decision is made, people can make a rational decision.”

Sam West can be contacted at s.west2@umiami.edu.