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DNA cloning, also known as recombinant DNA technology, occurs when a piece of DNA from one organism is transferred to a self replicating genetic element such as a bacterial plasmid. The plasmid is then transferred to a bacterium, where multiple copies of the same gene are generated. DNA cloning is used by scientists to copy genes and to create enough material for further study.
Reproductive cloning is used to create an animal that has the same DNA as another animal. The famous Dolly the sheep was the first animal created by reproductive cloning. The scientists, using a technique called somatic cell nuclear transfer, transfer genetic material taken from an adult cell nucleus to an egg whose nucleus has been removed. The egg, now containing the adult donor genetic material is then treated with chemicals or an electric current to trigger cell division. When the cloned embryo reaches a certain stage, it is transplanted to the uterus of a female of the same species where the pregnancy continues hopefully as normal.
Dolly and other animals created using nuclear transfer technology are not true identical clones. Only the clone’s chromosomal DNA is the same as the donor's DNA. There is also genetic material in the mitochondria, which reside in the cytoplasm of the egg cell that had its nucleus removed. The mitochondrial DNA is also replicated as the cell divides and this mitochondrial DNA will be from the animal that donated the egg cell and not from the donor animal.
Therapeutic cloning, also known as embryo cloning, is the production of human embryos for research purposes. They are used to harvest stem cells that are used in human development research and potentially in the treatment of many diseases. Stem cells can be used to generate virtually any type of specialized cell in the human body. Stem cells are extracted from the embryo when it is 5 days old, the extraction process destroys the embryo and this raises ethical concerns. Many scientists hope that one day stem cells can be used as replacement cells to treat diseases like heart disease and Alzheimer’s. It may even be used to generate tissues and organs for transplant, significantly reducing the need for organ donation.