Cloning is a term generally used to describe the process of duplicating biological material. Reproductive cloning (which is what the media usually refers to when they use the word “cloning”) is used to create an animal with the same genetic material (DNA) as the organism from where the material was derived from—which means that the process produces an identical copy of the original organism.
The issue of cloning has aroused world interest and has become one of the most controversial topics in science to date. Scientists and conservationists raise concerns regarding the effect of the widespread introduction of cloned animals on environment, particularly on ecosystems and biodiversity. The benefits from this technology are great, but so are the potential drawbacks.
Cloning can be used to produce animals with special qualities. In the cattle raising industry for example, cloning can be used for the production of grass-fed instead of grain-fed animals. This could be environmentally beneficial because switching from grain to grass would mean that less fertilizers and pesticides are used (because grass is more resilient). In addition to this, grass is more effective for erosion control. The technique is also used for mass-producing animals that are utilized for studying the effects of drugs and human diseases.
Cloning can also result in an animal population having the “best genetics”. However it also reduces genetic diversity, which according to conservationists, is environmentally detrimental. One problem to this is the theat of a population being wiped out when a disease or virus affects it (since members of that population has the same genetic make-up, therefore they have the same weaknesses). However, it can also be argued that resulting genetic hybrids from cloned and wild animals would normalize the level of diversity.
Cloning could also be used for breeding endangered animals to restore their numbers, as well as reviving extinct species. However, biologists and environmentalists raise concern about its effect on the natural habitat of animal populations. Another environmental issue about cloning involves the release of animals cloned with special traits to the wild—they could cause a disturbance to the ecosystem if they compete with the wild animals. As such, the proper cost-benefit analysis must be employed in addressing these underlying issues. While there are benefits to the technology, scientists must thoroughly investigate the impacts animal cloning would have on the environment as a whole.
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Bren, Linda. “Cloning: Revolution or Evolution in Animal Production?” Food and Drug Administration Homepage. May-June 2003. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. 16 Nov. 2006 <http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features/2003/303_clone.html>.
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Van Eenennaam, Alison I., and Alice Moyer. “What is the future of animal biotechnology?” California Agriculture Jul.-Sep. 2006: 132-139.