Cloning is laden with promise, but it may not change the world

The Outlook

March 09, 1997|By Mark Guidera

Tomorrow, Dr. Ian Wilmut, the embryologist at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland whose research recently resulted in the first cloned mammal, visits Baltimore. He will present his research findings at the Cambridge Healthtech Institute's Impact of Molecular Biology on Animal Health conference.

The biotechnology industry is abuzz over Wilmut's technology. How might it advance or alter research on new medicine, drugs, and food production? Could the technology one day benefit Maryland's biotechnology, agriculture and animal industries?

Dr. Rita Colwell

President, University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute

Dr. Wilmut's findings are, of course, a major step in advancing genetic science. It won't benefit Maryland's biotechnology industry immediately. But, eventually, it could have an effect.

The greatest immediate medical benefit might be to provide animals to study diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, and also use them to study the efficiency and efficacy of new drugs on CF and other disease.

The areas in which Maryland and UMBI probably will be able to contribute the most using this science are in the fields of plant and animal protection [from disease], and eventually the production of new vaccines.

Also, cloning almost certainly could have important applications in aquaculture, which is a big part of UMBI's marine science program.

One of our researchers has already made great strides in taking commercially viable fish species, bringing them into a captive environment and getting them to reproduce successfully.

We might soon be able to engineer fish stocks with this technology.

For example, with exotic species like those used in aquariums, this could mean they wouldn't have to be captured from reefs in the rapacious manner which occurs now. Instead, just a few might be harvested to provide a genetic pool.

In this way, cloning might benefit environmental protection efforts in Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere.

Mark Varner

University of Maryland extension dairy scientist and associate professor

In traditional dairy production, and even potentially in farm production for meat, this technology could allow organizations to identify superior animals and increase production of them much more quickly than is done today.

A lot of time and effort now goes into genetically selecting superior bulls and cows for breeding.

For example, it now takes three years before you can get an offspring from a genetically superior cow, and only one bull in 20 is eventually chosen for stud.

So, you can see how this technology might result in some considerable time and cost savings to the farmer.

It also holds the potential for increasing milk production and improving protein production in milk, which would have a beneficial impact on cheese production.

This science has a lot of implications for farmers involved with dairy and cattle production.

Reijer Lenstra

Biotechnology analyst, Smith Barney

This finding is not going to change the face of the world as some people have predicted, but it has enormous impact if you want to make animals for research.

I agree completely with Wilmut on what he's said about what's in store. The main thing that's going to come out of this is not a bunch of cloned sheep but new drugs.

Right now some researchers are using transgenic [genetically altered] mice to check on their drugs in development. But imagine if we were able to clone sheep or dogs specifically to check on a drug's effect on a particular disease.

Dogs are a far closer model to humans than mice so your results would be a far better gauge of how they would work on people.

This could greatly reduce the time and the cost of drug development.

There is also certainly the potential that companies might use the technique to create animals for use as organ donors. Already that is being tried with pigs, but it's really quite primitive right now.

Wilmut's technology certainly has implications that no one has really thought of yet, but the future should be quite interesting for biotechnology.

Caird Rexroad

Gene evaluation and mapping laboratory, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This is a great scientific leap forward. It has implications namely on the biotechnology aspects of animal production. Essentially this technology allows you to do all of the work inside the lab.

It obviates the need for hundreds of [cow] pregnancies, for instance, to get the genetically engineered one that you need for research. Needless to say, hundreds of pregnancies is expensive. Also, by being able to replicate a copy of a transgenic animal, you have the ability to produce and test pharmaceuticals in what are essentially living bio-reactors.

Pub Date: 3/09/97

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