Meet Snuppy the Puppy
Snuppy, for Seoul National University puppy, is the first dog clone. For more information the Times has a nice piece on it, South Korean Scientists Clone Man's Best Friend, a First. This isn't the first great cloning accomplishment on the part of the Koreans. In May of this year they managed to clone human embryos and to extract stem cells from them. The cloning of dogs would seem to be something made for the pet industry, but the Koreans have made the point that this work wasn't being done for pets but rather for the value such dogs have for research.
So the Koreans have cloned dogs, not a big deal right? I mean we've cloned pigs, horses, sheep, mice, and now a dog? I wasn't aware of this but it turns out that a dog's reproductive system is far more complicated than just about any other mammals, vastly increasing the difficulty for what it takes to clone the animal. One American expert (Dr. Mark E. Westhusin, a cloning expert at Texas A&M university who cloned the first cat) states in the Times article that he found the problems with dog cloning to be too intractable and quit trying. Then there's Genetic Savings & Clone of Sausalito, Calif [honestly, ONLY in the U.S. would you get a name like that], which has spent 7 years and some $19 million to try and do dog cloning commercially - there's BIG money to be had in cloning pets in this country apparently. To top it all off, the Koreans are the first to clone human embryos for stem cells, and all of this done in the space of the last year. Let's try to put this into perspective: the Koreans have a GDP that's less than 1/2 that of the United States, and since 1902 when the Nobel Prizes were first introduced have never produced a Nobel Prize recipient. I'm not trying to downplay the achievements of the Koreans, they have every reason to be justly proud of what they accomplished, but rather how is it that this country seems so far afield in this area?
All of this brings us back to our President and the religious right in this country, which he seems to more and more represent these days. Not only is he a recent supporter of teaching intelligent design, but he's also largely responsible for restricting the government funding that allows research into cloning and stem cells, and that's in addition to the fact that his commitment to funding scientific research in general in this country is given a lot of verbiage but a lot less money [don't believe me, ask any scientist who's dependent on government largess to continue working and they'll sure and heck tell you.] I don't begrudge the South Koreans their achievements, they've worked hard and made the necessary investments to attain accomplishments they should be justly proud of. But that this country, ostensibly the richest one on the planet, should be playing second fiddle scientifically to a country a fraction of its size and wealth, there's something very, very wrong there.
The issue of cloning is not a simple one, I appreciate that. But it's also no where near as complicated as Bush and his advisors, many driven by a religious agenda, make it out to be. Fetal tissue is not a human being. In all honesty I'm not sure when a fetus becomes "human", but when you're talking about harvesting the cells necessary for this sort of research you're nowhere near anything that could remotely be considered human other than in anything but the most extraordinarily hopeful sense. Embryos harvested for stem cell have the potential to become human, but we're not going to let it get that far and only ridiculous notions of when God imbues "humanity" into a clump of cells (why is God so concerned and involved with embryos and so seemingly little concerned with what they turn into? I'm so confused ...) get in the way of seeing this.
Cloning and stem cells and the potential curative powers they may have both need to be far better understood. Misguided and misplaced concerns about potential human beings shouldn't trump legitimate and very pressing concerns for humans who are suffering and who might benefit from this research. If we leave it to Bush and company this country will become a third world nation of science, especially in the area of this particular endeavor. Notions of
intelligent design and the innate sanctity of embryos are taking this country down the wrong path, and it's a path we can't afford to follow for too much longer.