They are Big Bertha and Tiny Tina, a couple of piglets.
They may look and act differently (hence, their names), but these
oinkers are identical. They are the newest cloned animals from Texas
A&M University, which - with their births - leads the academic pack
in the number of species cloned. And the fact that animals with the
exact same genes can be different sizes and have different
character traits may be just the first of many things that
scientists hope can be learned from these little pigs.
This latest cloning project - and the wealth of information
scientists hope it will provide - is just one of the many such
animal-cloning experiments under way. Even as the human-cloning
debate has dominated headlines and congressional hearings,
scientists have cloned everything from mice to lambs to bulls.
And it is in the pens of these cloned animals - rather than the
theoretical realm - where both the advances and problems of cloning
are being played out.
After the 1996 birth of Dolly the sheep, the first cloned animal,
the technology has been galloping along. There are now cows and
goats that produce more milk and tastier meat, bulls able to resist
disease, and pigs that can act as organ donors.
And this is only the beginning, say cloning supporters. For
instance, breeding disease-resistant cows could save people's lives
in third-world countries. And by cloning endangered species,
animals such as the Atwater prairie chicken and desert bighorn
sheep could be saved from extinction.
"You could repopulate the world [with an endangered species] in a
matter of a couple of years," says H. Richard Adams, dean of Texas
A&M's College of Veterinary Medicine. "Cloning is not a trivial
pursuit.... We're trying to improve life for people here on earth."
Dr. Adams is quick to defend his school's program and to dismiss
cloning's sensational aspects.
The school has come under criticism for its "Missyplicity"
project, in which the owners of a dog are spending $3.7 million to
have the pet cloned.
In addition to such moral controversies, opponents say there are
still too many physical problems associated with animal cloning,
such as deformities and high death rates during gestation. A recent
article published in the journal Science, for instance, noted that
researchers have found that apparently normal cloned animals
develop abnormalities later in life.
But so far, so good with the health of Second Chance, a 1,000-
pound Brahma bull born in Texas in June of 1998. He is being
carefully watched because his donor, Chance, at the age of 21, was
the oldest animal ever cloned.
The owners, Ralph and Sandra Fisher, had a special attachment to
Chance, a favorite with kids at rodeos and county fairs and who
appeared in several movies. …