Is cloning animals wrong? It happens all the time in plots of science fiction films, where the protagonist is replicated primarily to create some form of ‘secret weapon’ and almost always has some involvement with nameless government agencies. Do you think it is wrong to replicate genes for stem cell research? What about Dolly, the first sheep clone, is she any less alive than her mother? Is science moving too quickly and attempting to alter the natural flow of reproduction? Artificial cloning may seem like taboo, but in nature there is actually a form of natural cloning, known as Parthenogenesis.
Artificial cloning is the process of replicating DNA sequences from a living tissue sample and injecting that replicated DNA into an unfertilized surrogate egg, creating a clone! Ironically, this artificial clone is less like the original ‘parent’ organism when compared to a clone made through Parthenogenesis.
There exist many different kinds of Parthenogenesis, but only True Parthenogenesis and Facultative Parthenogenesis will be discussed, which produce full clones and half clones respectively.
Wikipedia defines True Parthenogenesis as:
“a form of asexual reproduction in all-female species that produce offspring without any male involvement.”
Sometimes, these Parthenogenetic species can be colonies of entirely female lizards! Talk about girl power. In whiptail parthenogenetic genus of lizards, Cnemidophorus, certain species partake in female-female courtship behavior. When one lizard is ovulating, the non-ovulating female will serve male courting actions such as dances or showing some flair. This male courtship behavior could ultimately be what activates the ovulating mother lizard’s reproductive system.
In normal animal sexual reproduction, a zygote is formed whenever a chromosome from the father organism combines with a chromosome from the mother organism. In Parthenogenetic animals, the mother creates two of its own chromosomes by way of meiosis and the zygote can begin to form without any outside fertilization. This process of true parthenogenesis creates a full clone, because both chromosomes are from the same organism. The child organism has no variation compared to its ‘mother’, except for the random and slim possibility of genetic mutation.
Facultative Parthenogenesis is a very rare occurrence, that has not been studied in any animals with a backbone, or vertebrate. That being said, you can expect this type of reproduction to only be seen in the weird and underwater, where most awesome organisms reside. Facultative Parthenogenesis can be defined by a creature having the option to partake in sexual reproduction, or asexual reproduction through Parthenogenesis. Sometimes, Parthenogenesis can occur accidentally in normally sexual species that do not reproduce asexually. This ‘accidental’ parthenogenesis should not mistaken for Facultative Parthenogenesis, rather just that, Accidental Parthenogenesis. Offspring birthed through accidental parthenogenesis have a high risk of hybrid inviability and hybrid sterility, meaning that their lineage will not last long if they survive birth.
The cool thing about facultative parthenogenesis is the possibility for diversity among these kinds of species, and that their offspring can reproduce in the same way!
These differing modes of reproduction are seen everywhere in nature: in bees and Komodo dragons and even in fungi, that can have up to six sexes at once! Now that you know about nature’s cloning process, what would you say about the morality of stem cell research and cloning? It seems that scientists are still playing catch-up in our ever-expanding reality. Just remember that in nature, there is no black and white and not everything can be explained rationally!