Friday, December 24, 2010

Dolly's Dollies: Extra clones revealed

An article over at the Singularity Hub gives some surprisingly good news about animal cloning.  First, Professor Keith Campbell, one of the original scientists who cloned the '96 sheep, Dolly, has revealed that three years ago he had cloned (at least) four other copies of her.  Second, these sheep (pictured above) have shown none of the health problems that were speculatively leveled at the original Dolly as arguments against the viability of mammal clones.  From the article:
In 1996, 277 eggs were used to create 29 embryos, only one of which became the viable and living clone known as Dolly. Back in 2007, it took about 5 embryos to create each of the four new Dollies. Fewer genetic material was required, scientists had to spend less labor, and there was generally less failure. In other words, a decade’s progress meant that we could now create (at least) four clones more easily than we created one. In the last three years we’ve probably improved even further. Whether you want to think of that as exponential or linear improvement, there’s little doubt that we’re getting better at making some types of mammal clones.[1]
The article is very informative and clears up some of the complete speculation (and hasty generalizations) drawn from the Dolly '96.

I've always believed that cloning carries great promise for developing domesticated livestock.  Take the pig, for example. One thing that is becoming apparent is how pigs are factories for flu development.  If one could gentically modify a pig to have natural resistance to certain human flu-based xenoviri, then the heavy financial investment to produce such a pig suddenly has a viable pay-off path, when cloning that pig becomes an option.  It would then take very little time to develop agricultural settings whereby these xeno-resistant pigs would not be worrisome flu virus factories.   This makes makes good sense for both subsistence and profit farming.  Contrary to what middle-class vegans/vegitarians would have us believe, agricultural animals are essential sources for maintaining the world's protein needs.  Here, from that "other" university in my home state, is an interesting note on the matter:

Food is, by far, the most important contribution of agricultural animal, although they rank well behind plants in total quantity of food supplied. Plants supply over 80 percent of the total calories consumed in the world. Animals are a more important source of protein than they are of calories, supplying one-third of the protein consumed in the world. Meat, milk and fish are about equal sources of animal protein, supplying, respectively, 35%, 34% and 27% of the world supply of total protein. There are many who feel that because the world population is growing at a faster rate than is the food supply, we are becoming less and less able to afford animal foods because feeding plant products to animals is an inefficient use of potential human food. It is true that it is more efficient for humans to eat plant products directly rather than to allow animals to convert them to human food. At best, animals only produce one pound or less of human food for each three pounds of plants eaten. However, this inefficiency only applies to those plants and plant products that the human can utilize. The fact is that over two-thirds of the feed fed to animals consists of substances that are either undesirable or completely unsuited for human food. Thus, by their ability to convert inedible plant materials to human food, animals not only do not compete with the human rather they aid greatly in improving both the quantity and the quality of the diets of human societies.[2]
Pigs have been domesticated for an unbelievable 9000 years, and goats and sheep even longer, so it's about time we get a new way of controlling the viral down-sides of livestock management, an issue which has haunted us since we left our hunter-gather lifestyle.



[1] Aaron Saenz "Dolly Lives! The Original Cloned Sheep has Four New Copies" The Singularity Hub 12/11/2010 (Accessed 12/24/2010)

[2] "Breeds of LivestockDepartment of Animal Science, Oklahoma State University (Accessed 12/24/2010)

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