- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. A member of a group that teaches that life on Earth was created by extraterrestrials said yesterday that the group had produced the world's first human clone a girl.

But no proof was offered, and mainstream scientists are skeptical.

The 7-pound baby was born Thursday by Caesarean section and will be home in three days, said Brigitte Boisselier, a chemist and CEO of Clonaid, the company that conducted the experiment. She said the baby was born at 11:55 a.m. local time but wouldn't say where.

Other scientists expressed doubt that her group could clone a human. An official of the U.S. government said the announcement would be investigated to see whether laws were broken.

In Rome, fertility doctor Severino Antinori, who said weeks ago that a cloned boy would be born in January, dismissed Clonaid's announcement and said the group has no scientific credibility.

Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology, a Massachusetts company, said before Miss Boisselier's announcement that Clonaid has "no scientific credibility." But he and other experts do not entirely dismiss the possibility of success.

"I'm still a skeptic, and I'm hoping that it's not true," said Steve Stice, who studies cloning at the University of Georgia.

The Southern Baptist Convention condemned the announcement. The Vatican, which holds that life begins at conception, had no immediate comment, but has condemned cloning in the past because extra embryos are destroyed in the process.

Nathan Diament, policy director for the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, expressed concern that religious and political leaders would overreact to the announcement. Orthodox Jews oppose cloning for human reproduction but support using the technology to develop lifesaving medical therapies.

Miss Boisselier said the baby, named "Eve," is a clone of a 31-year-old American woman. The woman donated the DNA, which was implanted in her embryo, Miss Boisselier said. If an authentic clone, the child would be an exact genetic duplicate of her mother her mother's identical twin.

Miss Boisselier, who wouldn't reveal names, said the mother had resorted to cloning because her husband was infertile. "The baby is very healthy," she said. "The parents are happy. I hope that you remember them when you talk about this baby not like a monster, like some results of something that is disgusting."

Miss Boisselier did not present DNA evidence showing a genetic match between mother and daughter.

Michael Guillen, a former science reporter for ABC-TV, told reporters at the news conference he was lining up "independent world-class experts" to perform DNA tests on the mother and baby. He said he was not being paid by Clonaid. Miss Boisselier said results would come within nine days.

"You can still go back to your office and treat me as a fraud," she said. "You have one week to do that."

Most scientists, already skeptical of Miss Boisselier's ability to produce a human clone, will probably demand to know exactly how the DNA testing was done, and who did it, before they believe the announcement.

Miss Boisselier said she expects four more babies one each from North America and Europe and two from Asia to be born in a few weeks. Two of the couples are using preserved cells taken from their own children before their deaths, and one is a lesbian couple, she said.

The couples were not asked to pay for the procedures, but some had invested in Clonaid, she said.

Miss Boisselier said 20 more cloning attempts were planned for January.

In 1999, Mark Hunt, a Charleston, W.Va., lawyer and former state legislator, paid Clonaid $5,000 a month to work on the first human clone, that of his 10-month-old son, Andrew, who died after surgery for a heart defect. Mr. Hunt paid Miss Boisselier nearly $500,000 before severing ties with the group in 2001, citing a loss of confidence in Clonaid's work.

Clonaid was founded in the Bahamas in 1997 by Claude Vorilhon, a French former journalist and leader of a group called the Raelians. Mr. Vorilhon, who now calls himself Rael, and his followers say aliens, arriving on a space ship, visited him in the 1970s and told him they had created all life on Earth through genetic engineering.

Miss Boisselier, who claims two chemistry degrees and previously was marketing director for a chemical company in France, identifies herself as a Raelian "bishop" and said Clonaid retains philosophical but not economic links to the Raelians. She is not a specialist in reproductive medicine.

Cloning produces a new person using only one person's DNA. The process is technically difficult but conceptually simple. Scientists remove the genetic material from an unfertilized egg, then introduce new DNA from a cell of the animal to be cloned. Under the proper conditions, the egg begins dividing into new cells according to the instructions in the introduced DNA.

Legislation or guidelines to bar human cloning are pending in dozens of nations, including the United States. Several countries, including Britain, Israel, Japan and Germany, already have banned it. There is no specific law against it in the United States, but the Food and Drug Administration contends that it must approve any human experiments in this country.

A senior FDA official said yesterday that the agency would investigate whether U.S. law was broken involving human experiments, and the White House said President Bush is "deeply" troubled by efforts to clone human beings and wants Congress to ban the practice.

Miss Boisselier would not say where Clonaid has been carrying out its experiments.

So far, scientists have succeeded in cloning sheep, mice, cows, pigs, goats and cats. Many scientists say cloning is too risky because of abnormalities seen in cloned animals.

Among the possible pitfalls are premature aging and other health problems.

"There's just not enough animal studies that have been completed to verify the safety of it," said Mark Westhusin, a professor at Texas A&M University who has cloned cattle and cats.

If the cloning is genuine, he said, "I think they're taking a big risk in terms of health hazards to the child."

Dolly, the world's first cloned sheep, born in 1996, developed arthritis at a relatively early age, but it is not clear whether that is related to the cloning, one of her cloners said earlier this year.

Last year, scientists in Massachusetts produced cloned human embryos with the intention of using them as a source of stem cells, but the embryos never grew bigger than six cells.

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