When a cell divides, it needs to replicate its DNA—the instructions for making proteins. This is achieved through two processes: cloning and biotechnology. Cloning allows scientists to take a single cell and make multiple identical copies of it.
Biotechnology, on the other hand, allows scientists to take the DNA from one organism and combine it with the DNA from another organism, making new combinations of genes that will create a hybrid plant or animal. When these hybrids are grown, they contain the traits of both organisms; their cells are genetically identical to the parent plants, but they also have new characteristics that were not present in either parent organism.
These two processes work best when used together for example, when scientists use cloning as an easy method for producing large quantities of plant or animal cells so that researchers can combine them with biotechnology technologies to create new organisms with specific characteristics.
However, many people who read articles about cloning do not understand this relationship between the two processes; in their eyes, any mention of “cloning” means only taking a single cell and multiplying it into millions of identical clones—a technique called direct cloning.
Using this narrow definition of cloning often overshadows the many other uses of this technology – including as a tool alongside biotechnology technologies like gene splicing and transgenic experiments.
What is cloning?
If you picture a scientist taking a single cell and making millions of identical copies of it, you’re getting a basic overview of cloning. In biotechnology, this is one method used to create a clone. It’s called “biogenesis” because scientists don’t make copies of the cell but instead take the original cell and make identical copies of it.
Cloning is the process of making multiple copies of one thing. Cloning is a useful method when scientists want to create large amounts of a certain type of cell. It can also be used as part of a gene-splicing experiment. Gene splicing is when scientists break apart a DNA sequence, like a gene, and then put it together again, with parts of it swapped out for other parts.
To understand why scientists clone things, you have to understand how natural organisms reproduce. Natural organisms have many barriers to reproduction, such as the need to find a mate, the time to grow a seed, and the resources to produce an egg or sperm.
Scientists can break through these barriers using biotechnology. Scientists can accomplish two main things with biotechnology: They can “reproduce” an organism by taking its genetic material and using it to make identical copies of an organism, or they can take the genetic material from one organism and mix it with that of another.
Biotechnology allows geneticists to make changes to the genetic makeup of plants, animals, and microorganisms, often to create new traits and characteristics.
How does cloning work?
When scientists want to create a clone of a certain type of organism, they usually start by taking a sample of a single cell and “fusing” it with an egg cell. This process is called “fusing” because, during fusion, the cell membranes of the two cells fuse together, allowing the DNA in the cell to mix with the DNA in the egg cell.
After the egg cell is fertilized with a sperm, the cell division process begins, and the fertilized egg divides into one set of cells that specialize in growing into the organism, and another set of cells that specialize in carrying the organism’s DNA.
This process, of growing a single fertilized egg into an adult organism and then splitting off a “zygote” cell, is called “zygote maturation.” During zygote maturation, the DNA of the zygote cells is tightly controlled to prevent errors from creeping into the DNA.
Biotechnology is used to study the effects of gene expression on cells, and cloning is used to bring that knowledge to the next level and create an organism with a new gene expression. Scientists will often use biotechnology to “turn off” a gene in the cloning process. Zygote cells, which have their genes already turned off, are grown into an organism and then given a gene to express.
These new organisms are called “transgenic organisms.” Transgenic plants can be used to produce biofuels – oils, alcohols, or proteins – instead of food. By removing the genes that make the plant’s leaves produce chlorophyll, which results in the production of sugars and fats, scientists can create plants that produce oil or butanol instead.
Types of biotechnology experiments performed with cloned cells
- Biogenesis: To create a new organism by splicing a gene from one organism into another.
- Gene-splicing: To break apart a gene and then reassemble it with different parts swapped out.
- Gene targeting: To insert a gene into a specific location inside a chromosome using a DNA-targeting enzyme.
- Gene silencing: To silence a gene using antisense RNA.
- Stable genetic integration: To go directly from DNA to protein in a cloned cell.
- Transient genetic integration: To integrate a cloned gene into a chromosome.
Benefits of Biotechnology with Cloning
- Using materials found on Earth, not the Sun, to fuel spacecraft. – Creating more environmentally friendly biofuels.
- Making food with less land and fewer chemicals.
- Finding new medicines with fewer side effects.
- Creating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) that can resist disease, herbicide, and pests.
- Developing better crops that grow in areas where water is scarce.
- Developing crops that require less water and are drought-resistant.
- Developing crops that require less land and fertilizer.
Drawbacks of Biogenesis and Biotechnology with Cloning
- The risk of creating a “Frankenfood” that is unsafe for human consumption.
- Insects that are fed genetically modified food may develop immunity to pesticides and become a threat to the ecosystems.
- Over-reliance on technology can cause the ecosystem to collapse.
- The loss of the diversity of the food source.
- The risk of genetic pollution is when genes from different organisms are mixed together.
Despite the fact that some people define cloning as taking a single cell and making millions of identical copies of it, the true definition of “cloning” is much broader. Cloning is a method of making multiple copies of a cell that you can use alongside other biotechnology technologies, like gene splicing, to create a new organism.
Cloning works best when used with gene splicing, gene targeting, antisense RNA, or other methods of controlling gene expression. Together, these methods allow scientists to create new organisms with desirable characteristics that weren’t present in either parent organism.