Emerging Tech

Geek Trivia: How many parents did Dolly the cloned sheep actually have?

Most modern versions of sci-fi clones don't have just one parent -- they have several -- and this goes for the world's most famous cloned mammal: Dolly the sheep.

Contrary to what some extraordinarily awful science-fiction movies may have taught you, cloning technology does not (yet) allow you to take any random cell from any organism and grow an exact copy of that lifeform in a petri dish. And even if it did, we're a long way from managing the cloning process on anything approaching an industrial scale. Case in point: Dolly the sheep, the poster child (or, lamb) for modern cloning.

Dolly was the first mammal successfully cloned using nuclear transfer from an adult somatic cell to reach adulthood. If that sentence seems highly specific, that's intentional, as there are several different ways to skin a cat in the cloning world (though presumably none of them involve actually skinning cats). The description above is a relatively accurate scientific label for classical sci-fi cloning, which requires far more than just invoking the word cloning.

In its broadest biological usage, cloning means creating a new organism that is genetically identical to its progenitor. Bacterial reproduction is, in a literal sense, natural cloning, as is most asexual reproduction. Molecular cloning refers to the reproduction of individual organic molecules, usually DNA or RNA, which is a fairly well understood and replicable laboratory process. The same goes for cloning individual cells -- particularly pre-adult cells.

It is relatively easy to harvest embryonic cells and coax them into making more embryonic cells, as happens during some in vitro fertilization procedures. After all, embryos are primed to replicate and grow into adult organisms. Cloning somatic cells -- as in non-embryonic, non-reproductive, functionally specified cells -- is a much more difficult feat, but is also fairly well understood. Somatic cell cloning is the basis for many new skin graft therapies, where new skin patches are cloned from a few samples of donor skin cells.

The trick is taking a somatic cell from an adult organism and getting it to turn into another viable, full-grown adult copy of that entire organism. The leading technique for such cloning, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, requires harvesting cell types from multiple donor organisms. Thus, most modern versions of sci-fi clones don't have just one parent -- they have several -- and this goes for Dolly the cloned sheep.

HOW MANY PARENTS DID DOLLY THE CLONED SHEEP ACTUALLY HAVE?

Get the answer.

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

12 comments
pgit
pgit

I remember the whole story, I read about it in Scientific American and if asked, I probably could have recalled the DNA came from a mammary cell... but I never put 2 + 2 together to = "Dolly." Nice to see these scientists have a sense of humor.

apricot
apricot

The only sheep that is biologically related to Dolly is the DNA donor sheep, and since the two have identical DNA, they are biologically SIBLINGS.

Dr_Zinj
Dr_Zinj

Biggest problem with using "blanked" egg cells, or transferring nuclear material to another cell, is that the non-nuclear material of the cell also exerts control over the development of the organism. This is especially true of the mitochondria.

JamesKelley
JamesKelley

The sheep seems to be the child of five parents. The three you describe, and the two that provided the original genetic material for the cell donor. If you were to do a DNA test, you would see the two left out as the biological parents.

TGGIII
TGGIII

Did the Surrogate Mother nurse and care for Dolly or is therre another adoptive parent. I see the need for refineing terms in the future as we have many modifiers for the workd Mother implied: Mother - Provided genetic material Surrogate Mother - Carried the fetus Adoptive Mother - Nurtured and cared for the neonate to adulthood Not much of a quibble but hey....

medtech007
medtech007

Three mothers (one provided the egg, another the DNA and a third carried the cloned embryo to term). But human ever would imitated perfectly God's creation.

frankog99
frankog99

Thank you for your time and effort.

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

1) anyone who's ever adopted a child is _not_ a parent (due to not having donated any DNA), 2) Identical twins don't have to be conceived at the same time (as they are the only siblings with identical DNA) #1 offends me greatly as I'm an adoptive parent, and assuming #2 is just plain silly as cloning is what I would consider "highly unnatural." (I'm not passing judgement, only stating that the process to my knowledge has never happened in nature.) Very different from in vitro fertilization where a "natural" process (combining egg & sperm) merely happens outside the body; the act of separating & isolating a cellular nucleus, stuffing it in a different cell & hooking up the jumper cables for a zap is just not something that occurs in nature. This is a whole new area of science and quite often you can't use older terminology and definitions to relate to the new science. IMHO, this would be similar to trying to describe quantum string theory in kilograms & kilometers. I'll take Jay's definition of "mother" over yours any day. I'm just sayin'... "Merch"

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Mitochondria are awesome. Think about it, they used to be independent organisms. Organisms with such a massive environmental adaptation advantage that other organisms had to hijack them... or are they the ones that hijacked the others... hard to say. Imagine that terrible environmental disaster, unchecked growth in short-sighted organisms releasing a horrible poison gas into the atmosphere in huge amounts. That horrible deadly Oxygen. And mitochondria had what it took to withstand it, even to utilize it, thrive on it! Amazing. And that's just the history. The way they work is amazing too. They have, as part of what they do for us, a proton sledgehammer. The perfect tool for building nanoware, utilizing the power of a proton as it accelerates down a tube crafted from six identical proteins, between the ends of which a strong electrical gradient is created with an intricate system of membranes and pumps. They create the fuel that keeps us going. Only it's not fuel that burns. It's called Adenosine tri-phosphate (ATP for short), and its method of operation relies on the very foundations of thermodynamics; they're little packets of chained-up entropy. The Phoshate groups in its name are daisychained together with very unstable bonds, calling these high-energy bonds does a disservice to the elegance and mindbogglingness of the system, think of them as very fragile, volatile... like rapidly cooled glassware which will explode if cracked, rather than shatter normally. Breaking an entropy package, an ATP phospate bond, thereby releasing the entropy allows the simultaneous performance of a task that would otherwise be impossible. It's like being able to propel a vehicle by smashing Ming dynasty tableware... it's crazy stuff, I tell you.

mquinn6
mquinn6

So basically it is doing away with the need for males... Other than provide genetic material to provide male offspring (for whatever the need..).

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

If the clone is viewed as a child of the DNA donor sheep, one could also view the original biological donors as grandparents... Before long, it's gonna start sounding like Ray Stevens' song: "I'm my own grandpa" ;-) Laterz, "Merch"

AnsuGisalas
AnsuGisalas

Monozygotic twins can be said to be a result of natural cloning. After all, the egg cell isn't "supposed" to split and form two embryos... it happens due to some factor which is partially genetic, but chance has a strong word to say, or so it seems. I say "supposed" because these things really don't have an external rule book, just tendencies. Scientific (or sci-fi) cloning however is trying to clone something or someone "after the fact", after the life form has grown up, and when its properties are well known, or when it has been determined that a genetic modification is in fact viable. That's why they have to jump through all those hoops. Of course, in a genetic modification study, they could just take a sample of the developing embryo to freeze, then thaw it up and multiply it when the specimen's properties are accounted for.

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