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Science

Cloning

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Plants can make identical copies of themselves by asexual reproduction, for example by tubers and runners. Humans have been cloning plants for years and have recently started to develop techniques to clone animals.

However, animal cloning raises ethical issues about how far humans should interfere in the production of new life.

Cloning plants

Strawberry plant with runners - stems growing sideways

Clonesclone: An organism that is genetically identical to another organism. are genetically identical individuals. Some plants produce clones naturally by asexual reproductionasexual reproduction: Reproduction that does not involve the fusing of gametes. It results in genetically identical offspring.. For example:

  • Spider plants grow new plants, called plantlets, on their stems
  • Potato plants produce tuberstuber: Enlarged underground plant stem which stores food (the part we eat), which can grow new roots and shoots
  • Strawberry plants grow stems called runners, which have plantlets on them

Cuttings

Plants can be cloned artificially using tissue culture.

The simplest way to clone a plant involves taking a cutting. A branch from the parent plant is cut off, its lower leaves removed and the stem planted in damp compost. Plant hormones are often used to encourage new roots to develop. The cutting is usually covered in a clear plastic bag at this stage to keep it moist and warm. After a few weeks, new roots develop and a new plant is produced. The method is easy enough for most gardeners to do successfully.

Advantages and disadvantages

Cloning allows growers to mass produce plants that may be difficult to grow from seed. All the plants are genetically identical, which is useful because you can be sure of their characteristics. On the other hand, the lack of genetic variation means that if the plants become exposed to disease or to changes in environmental conditions, all of them will be affected.

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