I have been reading on Wikipedia about cloning and am considering it a possibility for reproduction in my world. I am finding it slightly difficult to find all of the cons and pros associated with it. I have these:

  • Pros

    • Faster reproduction is theoretically possible
    • Get one good "template that has not inherited any genetic diseases and you effectively cure these diseases in a few generations
  • Cons

    • easily susceptible to corruption-choose the wrong template and everyone born has a specific defect of the template
    • Moral and ethical reasons (nonexistent in my world but still thought to list it)

This list feels relatively complete but I want my world to be screaming detail and it feels like I am missing something important.

My question is this:
What are the main, scientifically-backed reasons cloning is or is not an efficient method of reproduction for complex life?

  • $\begingroup$ Suggested edit: "... most efficient method of reproduction in large organisms." If you include bacteria and other tiny lifeforms, you'll find cloning is actually far more common than sexual reproduction! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Feb 11 '15 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ This brings up another question I will post in a while. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Feb 11 '15 at 16:44
  • $\begingroup$ How have you solved the problem of replicative fading? $\endgroup$ – Michael Feb 11 '15 at 23:49

This is a well studied question in biology, often covered under the benefits of sexual reproduction. I will only explore the points with direct relevance to a clone army, you can explore the rest of the reasons in the link if you are interested in learning more.

Advantages of cloning

  • Clonal organisms are very good at taking over a new environment for which they are suited. This is due to the intrinsic twofold cost of sex which ensures that clonal organisms will reproduce much faster than non-clonal ones, ceteris paribus. In the case of your example, a clonal army will be able to reach much larger sizes in the same amount of time as compared to a normal army (which you have already explained).

Disadvantages of cloning

In contrast to the advantages of cloning, there are far more disadvantages for cloning.

  • The genetic uniformity makes them extremely susceptible to new diseases or parasites. If a disease or parasite could target one of the members of the clonal population, the entire population could be easily wiped out due to the lack of genetic variability. In a clone army, this means that enemies can easily design a bioweapon to wipe out your clone army.
  • Once a bad mutation occurs in a clonally reproducing organism, it is highly likely to be stuck in the gene pool of that organism, and this accumulation of bad mutations will damage the gene pool over time. This is known as the Mullerian ratchet. If you are cloning an army using biotechnology from a single known-good soldier (such as in Star Wars), this point may be mitigated by always cloning from the originals.

Overall, if you are using the clonal army for very large short-term campaigns, it may be superior to standard armies. Under most circumstances though, a non-clonal army (or a clonal army drawn from a pool of genetically diverse templates) may be a better idea.

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  • $\begingroup$ So clones might likely be used for the settlement of a new world, before sexual reproduction can begin to increase the population based in your first bullet? $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Feb 11 '15 at 15:58
  • $\begingroup$ They can be used for initial settling the new world, but the second wave of settlers should be preferably much larger than the initial group, and be genetically diverse. Otherwise, inbreeding will certainly result. $\endgroup$ – March Ho Feb 11 '15 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ Pinging @DustinJackson so he sees this, but the comment is directed towards both of you. I would think that if you were engineering a clone army you would likely make them sterile so that they could not breed. This serves two purposes: 1) you control the sole means of reproduction, and 2) you control the diversity (or lack thereof) in the gene pool, and so, in particular, you can avoid the negative effects of inbreeding and DNA degeneration. Does that seem right? Ideally, you would also have a "kill switch", maybe some implant, so that you could exercise further control over your clones. $\endgroup$ – Dennis Feb 11 '15 at 18:25
  • $\begingroup$ Like if a regiment rebelled, just hit their kill switch and replace them? Call me crazy, but I like it. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Feb 11 '15 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ "Kill Switch" is probably a targeted virus of some kind, so it would take some time. But yeah, it would probably work. $\endgroup$ – Josiah Feb 11 '15 at 19:11

Cloning has one significant problem: lack of genetic diversity. In a clone army like the one in Star Wars, if the clone template is genetically susceptible to a particular disease, or if a disease evolves that targets the clones, everyone is vulnerable. If enemies of the army know this, it would be trivial to develop a disease to infect the whole army.

While we haven't seen this happen with people, we have seen it with another thing that our society has heavily cloned: bananas. The Gros Michel banana was the main variety of banana eaten in the united states until around the '50s. Because it's tough to grow modern cultivated bananas from seeds, most bananas are clonally propagated, so all of the Gros Michels had the same resistances to disease, or lack thereof. Inevitably, a fungal disease wiped out the banana plantations in South America and Africa, after which the Gros Michel was replaced as the import banana of choice by the Dwarf Cavendish. The Dwarf Cavendish is another clonally propagated banana, because learning from past mistakes is for chumps.

Cloning also isn't inherently a faster way of making people. In modern cloning technology, a cloned embryo is produced which must then be implanted in a host mother to develop. Plants can be quickly clonally propagated through cuttings, but unlike plants, you can't cut someones foot off and plant it in the ground to grow another person.

In most sci-fi settings, of course, cloning is paired with technology for growing complete human beings ex-utero. Instead of coming out of mothers, clones come out of tubes. This tube-growth technology is what allows so many clones to be grown quickly, but it would probably be improved upon if we removed the cloning aspect. If you grew people in tubes, but instead of growing clones, grew a genetically diverse population, you would have far more resistance to disease. Embryos could still be line-bred to select for the best possible traits while maintaining genetic diversity. With this sort of diverse approach, you could also develop different lines of soldiers for different tasks. A tank driver and an infantryman, after all, have very different job requirements.

Of course, people are probably going to call you an immortal monster and accuse you of planing god. Those are just words, though. Words don't hurt people. Know what does hurt people? Giant armies of unstoppable super soldiers. Vat people 1, nay sayers 0.

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  • $\begingroup$ "because learning from past mistakes is for chumps." - Well said :) $\endgroup$ – Brendon Dugan Feb 12 '15 at 3:48

The major problem that other sci-fi universes touch upon (the Asgard from Stargate SG-1, most prominently) is the Law of Diminishing Returns. Generation after generation of cloning can see flaws start to develop - essentially, when you're making a copy of a copy of a copy, all the little folds and niggles begin to add up. Continue to copy the flawed copies and eventually you can't copy any more, because the template has degraded so far as to be destroyed.

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea. I remember it being discussed in Star Wars after Jango Fett died :).....+1 for including genetic degradation. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Feb 11 '15 at 16:40

you answered it your self. Our sole means of surviving viruses is our difference, that someone out there is immune or resistant to a virus. If everyone had the same genetic materials it would be a global whiteout at the next epidemic

Lets evolve the idea

What if we had a genepool - like literally - a huge tub where people added genes to then create a clone, add more genetic materials - so everyone had their own genetic material. But then we are back to square one except without the fun part.

Accelerated growth is not a good idea. Many experiments about the human brain along with raising one as a person, somewhat indicate that a human mind will not be able to evolve it's brain and personality fast enough to support an accelerated growth.

So now we are back to a place where doing it the old fashion way is the best idea.

Unless you want a bunch of fast evolved maniacs, that will perish at the first biological attack that will hit them.

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  • $\begingroup$ It might be possible in the near future (100 years) to alter the memories of the brain to insert basic combat skills or something of the like into clones......for a quick response team, not for fighting an entire war. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Feb 11 '15 at 16:42

Your "raising a clone army" has an entirely unsupported premise: "Faster reproduction is theoretically possible". Why? How?

You are aware, I hope, that human clones are successfully raised all the time: they are called "identical twins". They are not notably quicker or cheaper to produce than regular singletons. Furthermore, if clones can be raised as cannon fodder, and apparently have no legal rights as individuals, which one of a pair of identical twins is the real person, and which the disposable clone?

You are presumably thinking of using artificial wombs, or something similar, and you must be assuming that clones can be subjected to forced growth rates in order to reduce their production time. Why is this not true of non-clones? Admittedly, the fast production of clones would be a great boon to geriatric medicine and oncology as a way to provide replacement parts, but the ethics seem a bit dodgy.

Assuming the existence of clone armies, and obvious countermeasure is biological warfare. Such armies would have all the problems inherent in any monoculture, and an enemy which creates a devastating plague which is restricted to the clones could use it with impunity, since the usual limit on such research is the need to protect your own population when the weapon gets out in the wild.

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  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking of growth horomones to speed up bodily growth. They would live and die in 3 or 4 decades....I am not sure the human mind is built for that rapid development. $\endgroup$ – JDSweetBeat Aug 3 '15 at 22:26
  • $\begingroup$ So.....You're thinking of a clone army that "only" takes 10 years to raise, and the grunts have the emotional and intellectual level of 10-year-olds? That would pose something of a leadership problem. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Aug 3 '15 at 22:42

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