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University of Leicester genetics expert hits out after US clone baby claim

Leicester Mercury story, December 31, 2002

Leicester genetics expert Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys has condemned human cloning as "totally irresponsible" after a US cult claimed to have created the first cloned baby.

Clonaid, a company linked to the Raelian religious cult, which believes aliens created life on earth, claimed a baby born on Boxing Day in the US had been cloned from tissue taken from its mother.

But fertility experts have reacted with scepticism, pointing out that Clonaid director Brigitte Boisselier produced no scientist or scientific evidence in support of the claim.

Dr Ian Gibson, Labour chairman of the Commons select committee on science and technology, challenged the organisation to allow Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, the inventor of genetic fingerprinting, to examine the baby.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys' team at the University of Leicester used genetic fingerprinting to verify that Dolly the sheep was a genuine clone in the wake of claims that it was the result of a scientific mistake or a fraud. The technique can be used to compare tissue from the cloned offspring to that from the donor to see if it is identical.

Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys said: "My deep suspicion here is that this claim is false but if it is true it does raise some huge concerns.

"Cloning tends to produce sickly offspring, when it works, so going through a process of creating babies at serious risk of abnormality and malformation is totally irresponsible.

"The real issue here is the motivation of the people who want to clone either themselves or a dead child. I have serious problems seeing any justification for wanting to create a quasi-identical twin to someone who is either living or dead.

"It is absolutely essential the claim by Clonaid is independently verified. However, I think very careful thought needs to be given to select the right accredited laboratory in the right country.

"The first round of tests will be most logically carried out in the USA and the most obvious organisation would be the FBI, as a federal organisation with no axe to grind."

Clonaid said tests were being carried out by an independent expert and results would be known early next week.

Britain banned the creation of human clones last year.

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Last updated: 8 January 2003 10:55
Created by: Rachel Tunstall

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