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Human cloning 'flawed' Thursday, 10 April, 2003, 20:44 GMT 21:44 UK

Human cloning may never be possible because of a quirk of biology.

Scientists in the United States say hundreds of attempts to clone monkeys have ended in failure.

They think the biological make-up of the eggs of primates, including humans, makes cloning almost impossible.

Cloning has been successful in several mammals, including sheep, mice and cattle, but there is increasing evidence that it does not work in all species.

The research, reported in the journal Science, casts further doubt on efforts by a handful of mavericks to clone humans.

Clonaid, a company created by a UFO cult known as the Raelians, claims to have already cloned several babies. It has produced no evidence to substantiate these claims.

Meanwhile, controversial reproductive scientist Panayiotis Zavos has published a picture of what he claims is "the first human cloned embryo for reproductive purposes".

Misguided

The majority of scientists agree that attempts to clone a human baby are dangerous and misguided.

Many cloned animals have been born ill or deformed and successful births are few and far between.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine used the method pioneered on Dolly the sheep to try to clone rhesus macaque monkeys.

They were unable to establish a single pregnancy after hundreds of attempts. Other groups have also tried and failed to clone monkeys.

The obstacle appears to be something to do with the way genetic material is parcelled up as a cell splits into two during embryonic development. Cells end up with too much, or too little DNA, and cannot survive.

It suggests that attempts to clone other primates, even humans, may be doomed to failure.

"This reinforces the fact that the charlatans who claim to have cloned humans have never understood enough cell or developmental biology (to succeed)," team leader Dr Gerald Schatten told the journal Science.

'Human clone' doctor on hunger strike Tuesday, 21 January, 2003, 18:52 GMT

Advocates argue cloning can help infertile couples The controversial Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori has gone on hunger strike, accusing the authorities of persecuting him for his human cloning projects.

"From now on I am not eating anything until Prime Minister [Silvio] Berlusconi meets me and gives me guarantees that Italy is still a free country for science and for me," Dr Antinori said in front of the seat of the Italian Government in Rome.

On Monday, police said they were investigating Dr Antinori to determine whether his Rome fertility clinic doubled as an experimental facility for cloning procedures.

This followed an announcement last month by a US-based company, Clonaid, that it had beaten Dr Antinori by producing the world's first clone - nicknamed baby Eve.

Dr Antinori - who had earlier announced that one of his patients would give birth to a cloned baby in January - rubbished Clonaid's claims.

Many countries have now introduced legislation to outlaw human cloning. Italy has a temporary ban on the practice.

Only liquids

Dr Antinori began the hunger strike at noon local time (1100 GMT) in front of Mr Berlusconi's office.

He said he would refrain from food but would take liquids and return daily to make his case.

The police investigation, begun at the request of Health Minister Girolamo Sirchia, was "like in the Holy Inquisition, about my research and not about crimes," he said.

"This is an attack on science and on the freedom of scientific research," Dr Antinori told reporters.

He said he was prepared to die if he did not get what he wanted.

"At least it will be for a good cause," he said.

Opponents of human cloning have described Dr Antinori's work as ethically irresponsible, warning that even if the process succeeds it may produce babies with severe defects.

Most scientists doubt, though, whether Dr Antinori really has the expertise to bring a baby clone into the world.

The 55-year-old was previously best known for his work in in vitro fertilisation, and in particular for enabling women in their 50s and 60s to give birth.

He shot to prominence in 1994 when he helped a 63-year-old woman to have a baby by implanting a donor's fertilised egg in her uterus, making her the oldest known women in the world to give birth.

Clonaid case

Clonaid has been ordered by a United States court to reveal the whereabouts of the baby girl it says was born as a result of human cloning as well as her mother.

The legal moves came after the company said the parents of baby Eve were reluctant to have the DNA tests as they could be obliged by law to reveal their identity.

In the absence of any DNA proof, scientists have dismissed Clonaid's claim that a baby has been cloned.

Clonaid was founded by the Raelian sect which believes humans were cloned by aliens.

Cloned baby birth claim Friday, 27 December, 2002, 16:11 GMT

Advocates argue cloning can help infertile couples A controversial company linked to a philosophical sect says that it has produced the world's first cloned human baby.

However, the announcement has been viewed with deep scepticism by the scientific community at large - and no proof has so far been put forward.

At a press conference, Clonaid claimed the birth of a healthy cloned baby girl, nicknamed Eve by scientists, who was born by Caesarian section yesterday to a 31-year-old US mother.

The location of the claimed birth has been kept secret.

The DNA to be cloned was taken from the mother's skin cell, Clonaid said.

The scientist leading Clonaid's efforts, Dr Brigitte Boisselier, said she was "celebrating a scientific success."

She said another clone baby was due in northern Europe next week, and three others shortly afterwards.

Two of the expected babies were, she said, copies of dead children made using preserved cells.

She said said five other implantation attempts had ended in miscarriage.

The company insists that independent scrutiny and DNA testing of mother and child would be allowed in "eight or nine days".

'No monster'

Dr Boisselier is former deputy director of research at the Air Liquid Group, a French producer of industrial and medical gasses.

She told a news conference:

"Science can be used for the best and the worst. I believe that this is the best.

"I hope that you remember them when you talk about this baby, not like a monster, not like some results of something that is disgusting. She is a very healthy baby."

Clonaid is linked to a sect called the Raelians, whose founder Claude Vorihon, describes himself as a prophet and calls himself Rael.

Dr Patrick Dixon, an expert on the ethics of human cloning, described the news as "totally inevitable".

He said: "There's a global race by maverick scientists to produce clones, motivated by fame, money and warped and twisted beliefs."

Race

The Raelians believe humans are the result of a genetic engineering project run by super intelligent extra-terrestrials.

Clonaid is viewed sceptically by most scientists who doubt their ability to clone a human.

Cattle, mice and sheep and some other animals have been cloned with mixed success.

But some animals have shown defects as they age - scientists fear the same could happen with humans.

Clonaid has been racing against the Italian fertility doctor Severino Antinori to produce the first cloned baby.

Antinori has claimed that one of his patient's will give birth to a cloned baby in January.

Antinori rubbished Clonaid's claims, saying they were "not substantiated on a scientific basis" and "only risks engendering confusion".

Proof

She said that the company would eventually allow independent scientists to check the baby's cells to verify that she was a true clone.

Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, the Massachusetts company that last year produced the first reported cloned human embryo, said Clonaid had "no scientific credibility at this point."

Demands grow for human clone ban Saturday, 28 December, 2002, 14:28 GMT

Advocates argue cloning can help infertile couples There are growing demands for a ban on human cloning after claims that a girl born on Thursday is an exact genetic replica of her mother.

French President Chirac has called on all countries to rally behind a Franco-German proposal for a global ban on human cloning which has been submitted to the United Nations.

US President George W Bush says the process is "deeply troubling".

Scientists remain sceptical of the success claimed by the Clonaid company which is linked to a sect that believes aliens created humans by cloning 25,000 years ago.

But legislators in Britain and elsewhere say there has to be discussion and introduction of rules for the practice of scientific methods which could produce a cloned baby, even if Clonaid's claims are untrue.

Clonaid scientist Brigitte Boisselier said a baby girl - nicknamed Eve - was born in the US as an exact genetic replica of her mother.

She said four other women were due to give birth to cloned babies in the coming weeks - one in Europe, another in North America and two in Asia.

Strong condemnation

President Chirac made his appeal for a global ban on human cloning in a statement issued by his office late on Friday.

"Whatever the truth behind the announcement, the president of the republic takes this opportunity to reiterate his strong condemnation of all research into human reproductive cloning and to solemnly reaffirm that for France the practice is contrary to human dignity and criminal," the statement said.

Earlier, a spokesman for Mr Bush spoke of his unease.

Scott McClellan said: "Despite the widespread scepticism among scientists and medical professionals about [the] announcement, it underscores the need for the new Congress to act."

The US House of Representatives passed a bill to ban cloning last year, but it has not been approved by the Senate or become law.

A defining moment in medical history? Click here for full story

In Britain, human cloning is banned.

But Dr Ian Gibson, the head of the parliamentary Science and Technology Select Committee, said there should be a review of fertility and cloning technologies.

"These technologies, the questions, the use of the technologies, are raising new moral and ethical morasses for us and we need to debate it seriously over a period," he told the BBC.

Secrecy defended

Clonaid offered no evidence of its alleged cloning success at its announcement, but said independent scientists would be allowed to test the mother and her daughter.

The results of those tests will be available within days and would need to show the parent and child are an exact genetic match for the clone claim to be verified.

The British leader of the Raelian sect - with which Clonaid is linked - defended the secrecy before the birth.

Glen Carter said: "I don't think the security of the mother carrying the child would have been guaranteed had people - independent or not independent - outside the Clonaid company been aware of the whereabouts and the circumstances of the birth."

'Ludicrous' claims

Dr Harry Griffin, the head of the Roslin Institute which created Dolly the sheep as the world's first cloned animal, said all researchers had reported high numbers of miscarriages, deaths after birth and other problems with cloned animals.

"It is not an inevitable consequence of being cloned but it is a common consequence," he said, adding he found the cloning of humans "objectionable".

A leading British fertility expert, Lord Winston, said most scientists would regard Clonaid's claims as "ludicrous".

He wrote in Britain's Mirror newspaper: "This strange cult is publicity seeking."

But Mohamed Taranissi, of London's Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre, said a distinction should be drawn between the alleged breakthrough and the people behind it.

"I believe that if this claim has been substantiated there is a lot of potential uses for it and good uses for it."

'Cloned baby' DNA test delayed Friday, 3 January, 2003, 13:05 GMT

The group say another clone will be born this week Tests to identify whether a baby is the world's first human clone have been held up after a lawsuit was filed against her parents.

DNA samples were to have been taken from the girl born on 26 December and her 31-year-old mother to see if they were an exact genetic match as has been alleged.

But the head of the cloning company which claims it engineered the baby said the parents were reconsidering allowing the tests after a court was asked to determine if they were fit guardians of the child.

Clonaid chief executive Brigitte Boisselier has insisted that the baby, nicknamed Eve, is the first of five cloned babies to be born, but scientists have been sceptical in the absence of DNA proof.

Independent experts had been scheduled to take samples of DNA from the girl and her mother on Tuesday.

But that did not happen and Ms Boisselier says the baby's parents are now unsure if it should be carried out at all.

"The parents told me that they needed 48 hours to decide yes or no - if they would do it," she told France-2 television, adding that testing could happen with one of the other babies due to be born.

The lawsuit filed in Miami demands the appearance of the baby's parents in court on 22 January.

But the couple may try to remain anonymous and not subject the child, whose identity and whereabouts are unknown, to any testing, Ms Boisselier said.

"The parents have gone home and they just want some peace and to spend time with their child," she said.

Legal action

A Florida lawyer, Bernard Siegel, said he petitioned for the child to be made a ward of court because he believes that if the child is indeed a clone she is being abused.

"I was concerned that, if this is true, this child is an abused child, that it could have some serious genetic, fatal problems and that the child was being exploited by Clonaid," he said.

"I perceived that this child, more than any other child in the world, needs legal protection under the United States courts."

He added he was not working for a client, but launched the case on his own volition.

As a result of the petition, the parents and all those who participated in the alleged cloning are required to appear in court on 22 January.

Ms Boisselier said proof that human cloning is possible could be provided by a second baby, due to be born somewhere in Europe in the next few days.

"Perhaps the second child will be more accessible because it is in Europe and the country in which he or she will be born may be less sensitive," she said, although she declined to name the country.

Ms Boisselier and Clonaid are linked to the Raelian religious sect which believes space aliens created life on Earth through cloning.

Second 'cloned baby' born Saturday, 4 January, 2003, 17:07 GMT

Clonaid is linked to the Raelian sect The group which claimed the first birth of a cloned human last week says a second such baby has now been born to a Dutch lesbian couple.

The baby girl and the mother are said to be well after the birth on Friday night.

Chief executive of the US-based Clonaid organisation Brigitte Boisselier told the French news agency the child weighed 2.7 kilograms (six pounds), but would not specify in which country the natural birth had taken place.

Sceptical international scientists are still awaiting DNA proof that the first baby - a girl named Eve - is indeed an exact genetic match of her 31-year-old American mother.

DNA tests that were to be carried out on that child were cancelled after the parents asked for a delay, fearing the process could reveal their identity or be used to remove the baby from their care.

Clonaid's claims have brought condemnation from religious leaders and led to renewed calls for human cloning to be banned.

Clonaid was set up by the Raelian religious sect, which believes aliens created mankind.

The head of the Raelians in the Netherlands, Bart Overvliet told Reuters news agency the Dutch woman involved in the latest birth was not a member of the sect and had got in contact with Clonaid by herself.

Clonaid has said that it is expecting a total of five cloned babies it has created.

'Abuse fears'

DNA samples due to be taken from the first baby and her mother on Tuesday were cancelled after a lawsuit was filed against the parents.

Ms Boisselier said the baby's parents may not let the test be carried out at all.

In the lawsuit filed in Miami by Florida lawyer Bernard Siegel, a court was asked to determine if the parents were fit guardians of the child.

It demands the appearance of the baby's parents in court on 22 January.

Ms Boisselier said the couple may try to remain anonymous and not subject the child to any testing.

"The parents have gone home and they just want some peace and to spend time with their child," she said.

Mr Siegel said he wanted the child to be made a ward of court because he believed that if she is indeed a clone she is being abused.

"I was concerned that, if this is true, this child is an abused child, that it could have some serious genetic, fatal problems and that the child was being exploited by Clonaid," he said.

"I perceived that this child, more than any other child in the world, needs legal protection under the United States courts."

In the cloning process, the nucleus of cell containing human DNA is transplanted into a woman's egg from which the nucleus has been removed.

Alien heritage

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched an investigation into the cloning claims, even though the cloning is said to have happened outside the US.

Clonaid was founded in the Bahamas in 1997 by the man who founded the Raelians - Rael.

He is reported to have said he views cloning as a step towards reaching eternal life.

Clonaid ordered to reveal 'clone' Sunday, 12 January, 2003, 09:15 GMT

The Raelian sect believes humans were cloned by aliens The company which claims it has produced the world's first cloned human has been ordered by a US court to reveal the whereabouts of the baby girl and her mother.

An executive with the company, Clonaid, was also summoned to appear in court in Florida, after lawyers demanded that the state authorities appoint a guardian for the child.

In the absence of any DNA proof, scientists have dismissed Clonaid's claim that a baby has been cloned.

Clonaid was founded by the Raelian sect which believes humans were cloned by aliens.

Fears

The witness subpoena and summons were approved at the request of attorney Bernard Siegel, who has filed a lawsuit demanding a guardian for baby Eve.

The papers were delivered to Clonaid's vice president Thomas Kaenzig before his public speech in Fort Lauderdale, Mr Siegel told the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Kaenzig - who must appear at the hearing in January - did not make an immediate comment on the papers.

However, he said the baby's parents feared losing her through court action.

"They have been waiting many, many years for this baby to be here and they are very happy that the baby is here," Mr Kaenzig was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

Publicity stunt

Last month, Clonaid announced the birth of a baby girl, saying she was cloned from her mother.

The company said the mother was a 31-year-old American, whose husband was infertile.

But Clonaid said that the parents of baby Eve were reluctant to have the DNA tests as they could be obliged by law to reveal their identity.

The company's chief executive, Dr Brigitte Boisselier, has said she had implanted five cloned embryos, two of which have already been born.

Clonaid's claims have been met with widespread scepticism in the scientific community, who have dismissed them as a publicity stunt.