Over the last couple of years, we have heard a great deal about cloning, a scientific procedure that produces an exact copy of a living organism without fertilization. These discussions began after a team of scientists in Scotland announced, on 27 February 1997, that they had cloned a lamb named Dolly from the breast cell of a sheep.
As this news spread throughout the world, people began to ask if one day a human being could be cloned. Certainly, at least in theory, it seemed possible. Some people even claimed that it would be a good idea to clone such geniuses as Einstein and others who had passed away. On the other hand, others argued that such knowledge could lead to cloning such people as Hitler, and that this was reason enough never to open the door to this potentially dangerous technology.
But is DNA everything? Is DNA the only item that makes us human? Case studies of same egg twins' show that there is more to us than DNA. Researchers have noticed that such twins, despite having the same DNA and being brought up mainly in the same environment and the same manner, somehow follow different paths, acquire unique personalities, and show evidence of different characteristics, although they may show similarities during childhood. Thus we can see that environment is an important factor on human behavior.
Used in this context, environment refers to the surrounding society, culture, belief, and moral values in other words, that which separates human beings from animals. DNA, the acronym used for a person's genetic code, plays the key role in the beginning of any biological life form. This key molecule functions similarly in both animals and plants to produce living cells.
Human beings have a special life-giving feature: the soul. Although its nature remains a mystery, its existence is felt deeply in the conscience and gives us a distinct nature that is not shared by non-human life forms. Although a person's first biological body is evident in the DNA even before it assumes an identity, it is the soul that determines his or her character and temper. Another shaping factor that should not be underestimated is the surrounding society (e.g., family, school, and economy) that unites with the soul and contours the body.
The era in which one lives also has a role in determining one's character. Given that a society is made up of individuals, it is subject to changes in moral values over time. Thus it is quite likely that if Einstein or Hitler were cloned, the resulting person would be an ordinary contemporary man who is obsessed with sports cars and the Internet, and a man who carries his cellular phone wherever he goes.
What made Hitler a monster was the era and society in which he lived, not his genes. What made Einstein a genius was the chance to explore and use his own capabilities and intelligence. It is quite certain that genes are the sole parameters that affect a person's intelligence and other intellectual features. In addition, the wonderful and unknown nature of a human being would be more conclusive and understandable if the complex interactions between the spiritual properties and cultural effects were taken together as a whole.
People can be cloned. In fact, clones that are biologically similar and yet behaviorally unique would be the best proof of the soul's existence. Since the soul cannot be cloned, as it issues from a different world, cloning a person's body may not be that dangerous. But it also would not make any sense. Moreover, the cloned individual could end up as a dangerous animal.
Consider the following example of inter-species breeding: When a horse and a donkey are mated, the resulting animal is a non-fertile hybrid. If a female horse and a male donkey are mated, the result is a non-fertile mule. If a male horse and a female donkey are mated, the result is a smaller and weaker animala hinny. But since half of the DNA comes from each animal and thus each hybrid offspring has the same DNA, how can this difference be explained? Obviously, the DNA contained within the mitochondria of the female horse's egg cell makes a huge difference.
The patent dilemma: The patent (copyright) system prevents any illegal copying and imitating and ensures that the actual researcher and inventor is rewarded. Drugs and chemical substances are the most patented items in medicine. After a large portion of the human DNA puzzle was solved, the issue of how to patent this information was put on the American agenda.
President Clinton declared that most parts of human DNA had been determined. However, such information was not to be placed in the hands of humanity at large, for the pharmaceutical companies had spent vast sums of money to produce this information. Also, it would be a serious violation of basic commercial sense for the companies to just give this information to the general public for free.
In addition, paying for the copyrights to acquire the technology does not mean that you are totally free to with it what you want, for these same copyrights limit the usage of that particular technology. This means that if cures are found for AIDS, cancer, and other currently incurable diseases, only the wealthy will be able to afford them.
Determining does not mean understanding: DNA consists of exons and introns. Exons form the meaningful parts of DNA by uniting with each other. We call the result genes. Introns are the non-meaningful parts of DNA. What is interesting here is that these non-meaningful introns make up 97 percent of all DNA. One wonders if they have functions, other than protecting and shielding the meaningful parts from external radiation and ultraviolet light, that are unknown to contemporary scientists? For example, each human cell contains about 4 meters of DNA chain in its nucleus. Surprisingly, introns and exons are represented by the same symbolic letters (A, C, G, and T), so determining the DNA chain is nothing more than a new beginning. The more important task is to identify the genes made of exons, which are non-trivially embedded into the introns.
The exact number of human genes remains unknown. According to some scientists, this number is either 25,000 or 32,000. Determining the DNA chain written with a four-letter alphabet is like trying to determine the meaning of an ancient inscription. Just seeing what it looks like does not mean that one can read it, for the latter is far more difficult than the former. This suggests that just determining the DNA chain is not enough, and that truly understanding the genes and their exact locations requires more time.
Human DNA has been determined, but we must remember that there are as many combinations as there are people. Also, the claim that DNA has been determined' is true only for a select group of people. Human DNA differs from race to race, society to society, and even from disease to disease. Thus it will take more time to develop a full comparative table of human DNA. It would be great if our current technology somehow could devise a single formula to represent the gene map of every individual.