By: Cheryl Jacobs Smith, Ph.D.
20 Years after Dolly the Sheep Led the Way—Where Is Cloning Now?
Scientist Dr. Ian Wilmut cloned a mammal, Dolly the Sheep, from an adult sheep’s mammary gland. Born on July 5, 1996, Dolly has “[…] changed everything,” says Dr. Alan Trounson, Dr. Wilmut’s colleague. Cloning a mammal changed the scientific dogma of its time and opened up a Pandora’s box of possibilities with significant consequences.
The impact of cloning on basic science has surpassed expectations. Cloning’s biggest impact has been in the advancement of stem cell and developmental biology. Stem cell biologist, Shinya Yamanaka, said via email, “Dolly the Sheep told me that nuclear reprogramming is possible even in mammalian cells and encouraged me to start my own project.” Dr. Yamanaka uses adult cells to make stem cells that can form a wide range of other cells – in a way, reversing their biological clock back to infancy so the cells are “young again” and capable of forming a wide range of other cells. Because they are artificially created and have a variety of features, they are call induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. The rise of these iPS cells has reduced the need for embryonic stem cells, an acrimonious ethical dilemma tightly bound with stem cell research.
“Dolly’s birth was transformative because it proved that the nucleus of the adult cell had all the DNA necessary to give rise to another animal,” says stem cell biologist Robin Lovell-Badge, head of the Division of Stem Cell Biology and Developmental Genetics at the Francis Crick Institute in London. Despite the successes achieved with cloning Dolly the Sheep, we likely will not see a cloned human any time soon. The technique used to clone Dolly the Sheep has been unsuccessful in the species closest to humans, primates. Additionally, Dr. Wilmut says, “Just because it may work in the sense of producing offspring doesn’t meant to say we should do it. The likelihood is that you would get pregnancy losses, abnormal births. I wouldn’t want to be the person who looked a cloned child in the face and said ‘very sorry.’” Others think that the recent advances in gene-editing technology (such as CRISPR), to correct genetic errors, will diminish the need to clone. Additionally, the thought of cloning a deceased loved one or beloved pet has reduced in popularity because of the recognition that the environment affects behavior along with genetics. It is unlikely the cloned subject would be a “true” clone when it comes to personality traits that helped create the initial bond.
Sadly, Dolly died on February 14, 2003, at the age of six due to a lung infection common among animals who are not given access to the outdoors. What started out as an unexpected discovery (Dr. Wilmut and his colleagues admit Dolly’s birth was a lucky accident) has paved the way for significant discoveries in stem cell biology and in how we view one another as people. 20 years after Dolly the Sheep scientists, ethicists, and society are still putting all the pieces together to figure out the mysteries of life and who should hold the key of creation. (Karen Weintraub, Scientific American)
Breast Cancer Research
NIH launches largest-ever study of breast cancer genetics in black women
A $12 million collaborative research grant awarded to Dr. Wei Zheng, M.D., Ph.D., of Vanderbilt University, Christopher Haiman, Sc.D., of the University of Southern California, and Julie Palmer, Sc.D., of Boston University will support the largest-ever study of breast cancer genetics in black women. The collaborative research project, funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will build on years of research cooperation among investigators who are part of the African-American Breast Cancer Consortium, the African-American Breast Cancer Epidemiology and Risk (AMBER) Consortium, and the NCI Cohort Consortium. These investigators are from various institutions and will share biospecimens (such as patient blood, urine, etc.), clinical characteristics, and resources from 18 previous studies, resulting in a study population of 20,000 black women with breast cancer.
Acting Director of the NCI, Douglas R. Lowy, M.D. says, “This effort is about making sure that all Americans – no matter their background – reap the same benefits from the promising advances of precision medicine. Survival rates for women with breast cancer have been steadily improving over the past several decades. However, these improvements have not been shared equally across the board – black women are more likely to die of their disease and have a more aggressive breast cancer subtype that is more difficult to treat. The exact reasons for these disparities are unclear, although previous studies suggest that the underlying causes are multifactorial with a complex interplay between genetic, environmental, and societal factors.”
“This $12 million grant — in combination with previous investments — should help advance our understanding of the social and biological causes that lead to disparities in cancer among underserved populations,” said Robert Croyle, Ph.D., director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS), which is administering the grant. “A better understanding of the genetic contributions to differences in breast cancer diagnoses and outcomes among African-Americans may lead to better treatments and better approaches to cancer prevention.” (NCI Press Officers, NIH)
Schools Look to Legos to Build Science Interest
Superintendent Nikolai Vitti of the Duval, Florida school district has proposed spending $187,700 to set up Lego robotics teams in 50 schools, an increase from the 36 schools currently operating such clubs. The long-term vision is to have robotics teams in all 161 Duval public schools. The hope is that this extracurricular activity will spark students’ engagement in technology fields and hopefully get them more involved in math, science and computers in class.
Mr. Vitti wants the school district to work with Renaissance Jax, a nonprofit Lego League and affiliate partner for “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology” (FIRST). FIRST organizes thousands of robotics and technology competitions around the country from kindergarten through 12th grade. The contract would involve training teachers and volunteers to run the teams and to coordinate practices and competitions.
FIRST team surveys show that 86 percent of participants say they are more interested in doing well at school, 84 percent are motivated to take challenging math and science courses, and 80 percent are more interested in Science-Technology-Engineering-Math (STEM)-related jobs. What’s more, the gender gap in science and technology is not apparent at the tournaments. Mechanisms such as these introduced early on and throughout children’s education may help to increase student’s desire for a STEM education and decrease STEM bias among men and women. (Associated Press, U.S.News)
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