to say that science and technology is progressing at lightning speed is an understatement. What, however, needs to be questioned is whether it is moving in the right direction or not. Since reports appeared about the existence of Dolly, the first mammal to have been successfully cloned from the cells of an adult animal (Down To Earth, Vol 5, No 21), scientists, pontiffs and even heads of state have been talking about her. And not without reason. Some Western reports have even said that human clones may be as close as less than two years away.
That man may one day replicate himself, literally, is not a pleasant thought. It conjures up images of armies of cloned soldiers trundling all over a futuristic world, with hapless humans meekly going about their daily slave-like routines. Even if the replicas were geniuses, they would not be welcome for one would hardly want to live in a world where all scientists are Pasteurs and all musicians Beethovens. How would the Mendels and Ravi Shankars bloom? Variety is the spice of life and diversity its essence. It is this diversity that is under threat. Sexual reproduction should not be given up in favour of cloning. Sex creates new gene combinations that confer new strengths, especially resistance to disease.
The technique that produced Dolly is far from perfect and may not work in humans. Even Dolly was the sole survivor out of 277 fused pairs of cells. Besides, a person produced this way may age faster than normal, falling victim prematurely to the diseases of old age.
But all this does not imply that biotechnological research should be banned. Advances in the field have brought about a better understanding of many diseases, new drug treatments and, consequently, better health standards all over the world. An overcrowded and underfed planet would probably benefit from copies of agricultural products with a mix of desirable traits.
The pros and cons need to be weighed carefully. Only then can one even think of a solution to the biggest dilemma faced by the world till date - to clone or not to clone.
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