Cloning is the process of creating an identical copy of something. In Biology, it collectively refers to processes used to create copies of DNA fragments (Molecular Cloning), cells (Cell Cloning), or organisms. The term also encompases situations, whereby organisms reproduce asexually, but in common parlance refers to intentionally created copies of organisms.
The term clone is derived from ????, the Greek word for "twig", referring to the process, whereby a new plant can be created from a twig. In horticulture, the spelling clon was used until the twentieth century; the final e came into use to indicate the vowel is a "long o" instead of a "short o". Since the term entered the popular lexicon in a more general context, the spelling clone has been used exclusively.
Molecular cloning refers to the procedure of isolating a defined DNA sequence and obtaining multiple copies of it in vivo. Cloning is frequently employed to amplify DNA fragments containing genes, but it can be used to amplify any DNA sequence such as promoters, non-coding sequences and randomly fragmented DNA. It is utilised in a wide array of biological experiments and practical applications such as large scale protein production. Occasionally, the term cloning is misleadingly used to refer to the identification of the chromosomal location of a gene associated with a particular phenotype of interest, such as in positional cloning. In practice, localization of the gene to a chromosome or genomic region does not necessarily enable one to isolate or amplify the relevant genomic sequence.
In essence, in order to amplify any DNA sequence in a living organism that sequence must be linked to an origin of replication, a sequence element capable of directing the propagation of its self and any linked sequence. In practice, however, a number of other features are desired and a variety of specialised cloning vectors exist that allow protein expression, tagging, single stranded RNA and DNA production and a host of other manipulations.
Cloning of any DNA fragment essentially involves four steps: fragmentation, ligation, transfection, and screening/selection. Although these steps are invariable among cloning procedures a number of alternative routes can be selected, these are summarised as a 'cloning strategy'.
Initially, the DNA of interest needs to be isolated to provide a relevant DNA segment of suitable size. Subsequently, a ligation procedure is employed whereby the amplified fragment is inserted into a vector. The vector (which is frequently circular) is linearised by means of restriction enzymes, and incubated with the fragment of interest under appropriate conditions with an enzyme called DNA ligase. Following ligation the vector with the insert of interest is transfected into cells. A number of alternative techniques are available, such as chemical sensitivation of cells, electroporation and biolistics. Finally, the transfected cells are cultured. As the aforementioned procedures are of particularly low efficiency, there is a need to identify the cells that have been successfully transfected with the vector construct containing the desired insertion sequence in the required orientation. Modern cloning vectors include selectable antibiotic resistance markers, which allow only cells in which the vector has been transfected, to grow. Additionally, the cloning vectors may contain colour selection markers which provide blue/white screening (?-factor complementation) on X-gal medium. Nevertheless, these selection steps do not absolutely guarantee that the DNA insert is present in the cells obtained. Further investigation of the resulting colonies is required to confirm that cloning was successful. This may be accomplished by means of PCR, restriction fragment analysis and/or DNA sequencing.
Cloning a cell means to derive a (clonal) population of cells from a single cell. In the case of unicellular organisms such as bacteria and yeast, this process is remarkably simple and essentially only requires the inoculation of the appropriate medium. However, in the case of cell cultures from higher organisms, cell cloning is an arduous task as these cells will not readily grow in standard media.
A valuable tissue culture technique used to clone distinct lineages of cell lines involves the use of cloning rings (cylinders). According to this technique, a single-cell suspension of cells which have been exposed to a mutagenic agent or drug used to drive selection is plated at high dilution to create isolated colonies; each arising from a single and potentially clonally distinct cell. At an early growth stage when colonies consist of only a few of cells, sterile polystyrene rings (cloning rings), which have been dipped in grease are placed over an individual colony and a small amount of trypsin is added. Cloned cells are collected from inside the ring and transferred to a new vessel for further growth.
Organism cloning refers to the procedure of creating a new mutlicellular organism, genetically identical to another. In essence this form of cloning is an asexual method of reproduction, where fertilization or inter-gamete contact does not take place. Asexual reproduction is a naturally occurring phenomenon in many species, including most plants (see vegetative reproduction) and some insects.
The term clone is used in horticulture to mean all descendants of a single plant, produced by vegetative reproduction or apomixis. Many horticultural plant cultivars are clones, having been derived from a single individual, multiplied by some process other than sexual reproduction. As an example, some European cultivars of grapes represent clones that have been propagated for over two millennia. Other examples are potato and banana. Grafting can be regarded as cloning, since all the shoots and branches coming from the graft are genetically a clone of a single individual, although the root systems may be genetically genuine examples of cloning in the broader biological sense, as they create genetically identical organisms by biological means, but this particular kind of cloning has not come under ethical scrutiny and is generally treated as an entirely different kind of operation.
Many trees, shrubs, vines, ferns and other herbaceous perennials form clonal colonies. Parts of a large clonal colony often become detached from the parent, termed fragmentation, to form separate individuals. Some plants also form seeds asexually, termed apomixis, e.g. dandelion.
Clonal derivation exists in nature in some animal species and is referred to as parthenogenesis. An example is the "Little Fire Ant" (Wasmannia auropunctata), which is native to Central and South America but has spread throughout many tropical environments.
Therapeutic Cloning refers to a procedure which allows the cloning of specific body parts and organs to be utilised for medical purposes. This has not yet being realised, but it is the subject of much active research. Currently, patients subjected to transplantation are administered immunosuppresant drugs to prevent recognition of the foreign transplant by their immune system and its subsequent rejection. The ability to clonally derive organs from the patients' own cells would abolish the need for immunosuppressant drugs and would allow the patients to live a life without the potentially serious side-effects of immunosuppresant drugs. More importantly, the ability to clonally derive organs would alleviate the current shortage of transplants and would possibly reduce waiting times for translants to