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  Cloning: A Symptom of Our Times

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By: Craig Holdrege
Genetic Engineering.doc

Cloning of the sheep, "Dolly," reported in February, 1997, evoked a vehement public discussion. Any time a story makes the headlines, it is prudent to ask whether news is being made - media hype - or if justifiably an important issue is being presented to the public for discussion. The case of sheep cloning was certainly a mixture of both. Dolly made a good story. Specters of identical creatures peopling the earth aroused fear, repulsion and anger, making wonderful material for articles and talk shows.

The report also stimulated a much-needed discussion about the power and consequences of biological manipulations. The question of clearer regulation of biotechnology came to the fore. Thinking about identity and individuality became public discussion. I view the cloning of Dolly and the ensuing public discussion can be viewed as a symptom of our complex times. This approach allows us to go beyond a reactive response by addressing what this symptom can reveal.

What was done

Ian Wilnut and his colleagues at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh extracted and cultured cells from the mammary gland of a six-year old sheep of the Finn Dorset breed.(1) The idea was to fuse these adult cells with enucleated eggs of sheep of a different breed (Black Welsh). For many years, experiments such as this had been attempted with assorted mammalian species and failed. In recent years, researchers had had more luck using embryonic cells as the nucleus donor. In 1994 at Neal First's lab at the University of Wisconsin, a staff member forgot to give a cell culture containing embryonic cow tissue the necessary nutrient serum.(2) The cells survived and were transferred into enucleated cow eggs. Four calves were born. Only with starved cells did the experiment succeed. The result of an oversight became an essential technique.

Wilnut et al used the starvation technique in culturing the adult mam- mary gland cells. A single starved udder cell was placed next to an enucleated sheep egg. Two pulses of electrical current were applied to stimulate fusion of the udder cell with the enucleated egg. This succeeded in 277 cases. These eggs now had the nucleus from the udder cells. 29 of them developed into early embryos of the morula or blastocyst stage; the others died or did not develop normally. The surviving embryos were transferred to recipient ewes of the Black Welsh breed. Only one ewe became pregnant. The fetus developed normally, and a healthy lamb was born. This was Dolly.

Dolly had a threefold biological origin: the udder cell from the Finn Dorset breed ewe, the enucleated egg cell from the ewe of the Black Welsh Breed, and the recipient ewe, also of Black Welsh breed, who carried out the pregnancy. In her morphology and outer appearance. Dolly clearly belonged to the Finn Dorset breed, the breed of the udder cell donor. This similarity suggests that the donor nucleus from the udder cell played a significant role in channeling development. This part of the experience made the news.

Less attention was given to other facts. Dolly's birth weight was at the upper end of the scale for Black Welsh lambs. Finn Dorset lambs are usually smaller. This result suggests the influence of the intrauterine environment in development. Interestingly, the gestation period was longer than typical for either breed, being closer to the Black Welsh than the Finn Dorset which, again, suggests the stronger influence of the intrauterine environment than the disposition mediated by the donor nucleus.

Clone and Identity

Dolly was reported to be the clone of an adult udder cell. Wilmut et al's article states in the title, "Viable offspring derived from... adult mammalian cells." If we look at the actual procedure, however, this statement is not true because it leaves out the whole context of the developmental process. First, the udder cell was subjected to very specific experimental conditions, the cell starvation being somehow essential - it is assumed the starvation brings the nucleus into a state of quiescence similar to that of the sperm's. Then, the udder cell was fused with the egg cell. The cytoplasm of the egg became the first nurturing environment fro the udder nucleus. In a few cases, the whole is able to develop within a ligated fallopian tube. These early embryos are then transferred to the fallopian tubes of recipient ewes. The ewe provides the intrauterine environment for these embryos, but in this case only one developed and was born as a lamb.

Surely, the nucleus from the adult cell was an essential feature of the experiment, but the reports suggest it determined the whole process. With the focus on the nucleus as the carrier of the genes, the concept of genetic identity becomes blown up to encompass the identity of the whole organism, suggesting that Dolly was an "identical copy." One loses sight of the richness and intricacy of the developmental process. Even from a strictly genetic standpoint. Dolly was not identical to the udder cell donor since not all of the genetic material stems from the udder nucleus. The egg also contributes genetic material to the organism through, for example, the mitochondria, which have their own DNA that is maternally inherited.

One would expect cloned organisms to be very similar to each other. In the case of Dolly, there were no cloned siblings, but clones from sheep and cows have been produced by nuclear transfer of embryonic cells.(3,4) They show surprising variability. Although genetically nearly the same, their birth weights are proportionately higher than normal, and the range of birth weights is greater than in animals of the same breed conceived naturally. This variability is a riddle and certainly flies in the face of schematic expecta- tions and representations that suggest genetic identity determines phenotypic similarity.

If the aim is to produce organisms that are as similar to each other as possible, not only genetically but overall in their biological form and function, then much more than genetic technology is necessary. External and internal conditions of pre- and postnatal development and care would have to be controlled as much as possible.


The lack of faithfulness to the complexity of actual facts in the descriptions and understanding of the sheep cloning experiment is quite astounding. Generally speaking, it is difficult to cut through descriptions and reports to the factual basis of a matter. One might expect this to be easy with science. However, motives and theoretical ideas strongly color the interpretation and presentation of phenomena. Rudolf Steiner describes this: When we consider the ideas that are formed about nature in the most scholarly circles, we find that human consciousness in our day does nothing but construct specters ... What modern human beings picture as the science of nature is not nature, but relates to nature as a specter relates to reality ...It is fitting for the age of the consciousness soul to realize that this is the case, that we live in specters when we live in mental pictures.(5)

A real understanding of nature demands not a love of theoretical ideas, which become specters that stand between us and the things themselves, but a love of the facticity of appearances themselves: When we as human beings confront a simple fact, we can rigorously attempt to form a mental picture that exactly corresponds to this fact. This mental picture is then true. Or, we can - whether due to inexactness, lassitude or even an aversion to truth, that is, out of falseness -form a mental picture that is not connected to the fact, that does not fit the fact... If we want to develop inner truthfulness, we must never go further than the facts that the outer world speaks to us. And we must, strictly speaking, attempt to formulate our words in such a way that we only confirm the facts of the outer world.(6)

When a partial aspect of a whole is raised upon a pedestal and becomes an all-powerful agent, then a specter is created. This is the case with much of what is called a "cause" today in science. It is certainly descriptive of the de- velopment and application of the gene concept in our century.(7) The concept of the clone is imbued with the image of the all-powerful, determining genes. The specter of identical copies appears which, in turn, gives rise to fear on the one side and visions of absolute control on the other. Feelings of both fear and power feed an increasingly self-centered and abstract view of the world. In other worlds, the scientific specters breed further specters in the human soul that lead us away from real engagement in the facticity of ourselves and the world.

Motives and the Animal

A whole spectrum of motives drives cloning research. There is the very basic research question: can the adult cell nucleus adapt to the environment of the egg, making development possible? Scientists are certainly interested in answering this question, but the reasons for doing most cloning experiments are more pragmatic: is it possible to make animals that are as identical as possible? Cloning would contribute to this. In addition, if it would be possible to genetically manipulate the organism that is the donor of the nucleus in nuclear transfer cloning, then one could product highly uniform clones that, via genetic engineering, have the characteristics we desire. One primary avenue of research is to have farm animals produce pharmaceutical substances such as human-derived proteins that are otherwise difficult and expensive to isolate and produce in large quantities. This technology would ultimately lead to a cheap and efficient way of manufacturing substances using animals as "commercial bioreactors."

The term "commercial bioreactor" already indicates a further, very powerful motivating factor: the desire to make a large profit. Not only entrepreneurs and investors hope to make money in this expanding industry, many scientists have shares in the companies that will produce and market the fruits of their research. The potential for conflict of interest has never been greater within the biological sciences due to this lucrative marriage of research and industry. (Ian Wilmut's group receives government salaries, and the scientists are prohibited from investing in the company that finances much of their research and holds the patents on any products stemming from the research. In this sense, this group belongs to the "old school.")

With respect to all three areas - basic research, biotechnically-derived substances, and profit making - no question about the animal itself is present. The sheep serves as a medium to find out about cellular and genetic pro- cesses and then as a bioreactor to produce substances and earn money.

Through genetic engineering and cloning, scientists affect and change an organism as a whole, yet they never consider this organism in its own right. There is a vast discrepancy between the will and power to manipulate organisms and the lack of interest in understanding them in their own terms. Spectral concepts such as "commercial bioreactor" lead us to see only the factory element in the sheep or the cow.

A counterweight to this approach would entail studying different species to discern their respective, unique characteristics. We all "know" that a cow is different from a sheep, but we never become interested in how they are different, discovering the cowness in every fiber of the cow and sheepness in every fiber of the sheep. This knowledge will never be gained by the study of genetic factors and environmental influences; we need to turn to the richness of the organism itself. This is an exceedingly important and timely task for a holistic zoology.

Without such knowledge, we will not be able to discern the appropri- ateness of this experimentation or understand the consequences of genetic manipulations for the organisms themselves. In this respect, results of nuclear transfer of embryonic cells in sheep and cows are pertinent.

The highly variable birth weights already have been mentioned. There is also a high percentage of postnatal death, deformities and illness in the cloned animals. In one study, for example, 8 of 40 calves died in the first 14 weeks after birth; in 6 cases, bacterial infections played a role.(3) 34 of the 40 calves needed medical treatment. In addition, many animals showed abnormal behavior patterns. They generally took much longer to stand, and many did not suckle normally. Ten of the calves had to be tube fed. These are just a few examples of the spectrum of anatomical, physiological and behavioral abnormalities described.

Considering these abnormalities in the context of viewing the cattle and sheep as bioreactors, one has to also consider technical problems that need to be eliminated in order to improve efficiency. Viewing the animals as whole organisms, we see that the techniques inhibit healthy development. The technology has focused on controlling heredity and aims for the highest degree of uniformity, but it leads to unhealthy organisms. This is not surprising inasmuch as the living context of development has, to a great extent, been ignored. Can one expect healthy conditions when one's motives and research methods are not oriented on the integrity of the organism, which is the basis of health? I am not suggesting the techniques will not improve; in fact, I'm convinced they will. Such success could indicate that scientists have been able to adapt their methods to the needs of the organisms or have become better in adapting the organisms to their methods, or a combination of both.

Human Cloning

The question of cloning takes on a new dimension when one imagines the human being as the object of experiments. When Ian Wilmut was asked about human cloning, he said that "Everyone involved thinks it would be unethical to try in people."(8) Personally, he would find it "repugnant" and goes on to describe: ' People say that cloning means that if a child dies, you can get that child back. It's heart-wrenching. You could never get that child back. It would be something different. You need to understand some biology. People are not genes. They are so much more than that.(9)

Everything Wilmut says about people could be said about sheep. They are also much more than their genes. Evidently, he has an inner sense of human individuality and uniqueness that leads him to make an essential distinction between humans and animals.

In genetic terms, the human being differs from mammals such as the chimpanzee only because it has a few different genes. Individual human beings differ from one another due to variation in their genetic makeup and environment. Accordingly, "individuality" is the specific genotype expressed in the particular environment. All sexually-reproducing organisms have this kind of "individuality," and the human being is in no way special.

When scientists draw a line between humans and animals, it is not on the basis of their scientific conceptions. The judgment arises out of feeling for one's own self and that of others. For scientists, this dichotomy of standpoints presents a dilemma because, in their own view of science, they can give only unscientific - that is, so-called personal or subjective - reasons for not pro- ceeding with human cloning research. If one takes the narrower scientific perspective, it is not a question of whether we should clone human beings but of our technical ability; and this could only be tested by trying it.

Soon after making the statement quoted above, Ian Wilmut urged the U.S. Senate not to rush into banning human cloning. He could not endorse cloning of humans, but banning human cloning would be premature since the technology is still inefficient.(10) This is an interesting point: would making the technique more efficient make it less of a moral problem? Do the moral questions disappear when a procedure becomes technically sound?

Simon Fischel, an embryologist and director of a fertility clinic in Nottingham, UK, states: "In many ways, cloning could offer enormous bene- fits. You could clone from an adult to a child that is sick to produce embry- onic stem cells that could be used to repair that individual's tissue." He goes on to speculate that brain-dead clones of humans could be produced and used as a source of genetically identical organs if the need for an organ transplant arouse." He doesn't put it this way, but the clone would be a new form of life insurance.

To most people, the thought of cloning human beings is appalling. Fischel's statement appears crass, but he is actually just applying contemporary scientific thinking full force to the human being. He evidently doesn't notice, however, that in appealing to "enormous benefits" he enters into contradiction with himself. The benefits are to benefit human beings, but the means he suggests for reaching this goal would involve ignoring and damaging human integrity by trying to produce mere bodies of humans to be used for spare parts - saving humanity via dehumanization.

A number of countries have laws prohibiting human cloning. Immediately after Dolly's cloning Bill Clinton asked the National Bioethics Advisory Commission to research and have hearings on human cloning and make recommendations. In June, the Commission recommended that Congress enact legislation to ban cloning of human beings, but it left open the possi- bility of privately-funded research to clone early (up to 14 days old) human embryos. Clinton already had banned Federal funding of human cloning research.

The regulation of such research is a legal or rights issue, being concerned with protecting human rights. Our judgment of human rights is based upon our inner perceptions of humanity and the concepts we form of the qualities of being human. In the best case, the work of the judiciary branch of government, exemplified by the Supreme Court, is the reflection of the struggle to interpret human rights viewed in light of the Constitution which is, itself, a reflection of the intuitions regarding human rights that the founding fathers were able to formulate.

As Rudolf Steiner pointed out, the formulation of human rights is, in the first instance, a descriptive and not a normative undertaking.(12) A constitution and rights laws (again, in the best case) are based on the intuitions that human beings have had concerning human nature and human rights. In this sense, a constitution and rights laws provide a natural history of rights sensibility, and as this changes so may its outer expressions.

As our thinking becomes increasingly technomorphic and utilitarian, how does it affect our inner sense of humanity? The more we think of the world as something mechanical to be utilized, the more externalized we become in our approach and in respect to the human being. Manifold tendencies in our culture work against inner reflectiveness and against developing individuality. A vague sense of humanity and individuality may be the last reflection of a dying inwardness. Traditional mores also carry little weight and are too weak to withstand the forces urging us to do the doable. As Iowa Senator Harkin put it: What nonsense, what utter nonsense to think we can hold up our hands and say, 'Stop!' Human cloning will take place, and it will take place in my lifetime. I don't/ear it at all. I welcome it.(13)

Conclusion In a sense, the cloning of Dolly is a loud cry to seriously penetrate the questions of facticity, integrity and individuality in a new way. There is little future in appealing to traditional belief systems. If Anthroposophy is presented as authoritative knowledge, it will also not become fruitful since it then appears dogmatic or sectarian.

We need to turn to and engage in the facticity of the world, cutting through hype and schematic conceptions that create a spectral image of the world. In this activity, we seek to understand living beings in their own right, adapting our conceptions to them as a counterbalance to the overriding tendency to ignore their integrity and to manipulate them based on narrow genetic conceptions. Working in this way involves activating the living individual in us. We engage not only more consciously in the world but, at the same time, become more aware of human inwardness as a force and reality in the world. Without this activity and awareness, the concept of human individuality may well become a mere shell, allowing the inhuman to appear right and useful.


1. Wilmut, I et al. 1997. Viable offspring derived from fetal and adult mammalian cells. Nature 385:810-813.

2. Described in New York Times March 3,1997, p. B7.

3. Carry, FB et al 1996. Postnatal characteristic of calves produced by nuclear transfer cloning. Thenogenology 45:141-152.

4a Kruip, AM, Th. and den Daas, JHG, 1997. In vitro produced and cloned embryos: effects on pregnancy, parturition and offspring. Thenogenology 47:43-52.

5. Steiner, R. 1985. Die Polaritaet van Dauer und Entwicklung im Menschenleben. Lecture 13, October 11, 1918; Bibl. Nr. 184. Dornach, Switz.: Verlag der Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung.

6. Steiner, R. 1966. Lebendiges Nafurekennen. Lecture 7 & 8, January 19 & 20,1923; Bibl. Nr. 220. Domach, Switz.: Verlag der Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung.

7. Holdrege, C. 1996. Genetics and the Manipulation of Life: The forgotten factor of Context. Hudson, NY: Lindisfame Press.

8. Reported in New Scientist March 1,1997, p. 4.

9. Quoted in New York Times March 3,1997, p. B7.

10. Reported in New York Times March 13,1997, p. Bll.

11. Quoted in New Scientist March 1,1997, p. 5.

12. Steiner, R. 1964. The Philosophy of Freedom, Chapter 9. Trans. M. Wilson, Hudson, NY: Anthroposophic Press. (Available under other titles and in other translations.)

13. Quoted in New York Times March 13,1997, p. Bll.

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