- HUMAN cloning is banned in 19 countries, including all of Western Europe,
but members of a fringe UFO-based religion founded by a French sports journalist
are determined to make it happen.
- For $200,000 (£123,000) per baby,
a company called Clonaid is offering to produce genetic twins of adult
parents for infertile and homosexual couples, and is predicting success
by 2000. Its founders would doubtless have been dismissed by mainstream
science as delusionary, but for one thing: they are completely serious.
- Cloning has come a long way even in the
18 months since Dr Ian Wilmut of Scotland produced Dolly, the world's first
cloned sheep. So says Dr Brigitte Boisselier, scientific director of Clonaid
and a bishop in the so-called Raelian religion, which holds that life on
Earth was created 25,000 years ago with DNA imported by aliens. Dr Boisselier
has chemistry doctorates from universities in Dijon and Houston and is
at pains to distinguish between her scientific and religious beliefs.
- "I'm a scientist and very pragmatic
even if I do believe in little green men," she told The Times this
week. Nonetheless, there is no hiding the fact that an obscure group of
ufologists is at the forefront of an unofficial race to break one of science's
last great taboos.More than 100 couples and individuals have approached
Clonaid hoping to be replicated from their own DNA and willing to pay a
high price, Dr Boisselier claims.
- Twenty per cent of them are gay and all
are would-be parents "who can't have children any other way",
she says. They cannot have children by cloning either - yet. The technique
used to produce Dolly from a single adult cell was far from foolproof;
it worked in only one of 277 attempts. Since then, American scientists
have produced three cloned calves and two rhesus monkeys using more sophisticated
procedures. But no one has yet cloned a major primate, let alone a human.
- Experts and politicians have condemned
the idea as an ethical minefield and scientifically risky, but few doubt
it will be tried. Human cloning "is no longer in the realm of science
fiction", Lee Silver, a Princeton geneticist, said this summer. "The
technological breakthrough has already happened. The details of how to
do this with human cells still need to be worked out but once they're refined,
it'll just be a matter of time."
- Should that time come, DNA samples from
Clonaid clients will be used to "activate" host human cells in
laboratories where the process is legal, likely to be in the Third World.
Cloned human embryos would then be implanted in their mother's (or a surrogate
mother's) uterus, using techniques with a success rate of around 20 per
cent. For Clonaid it will be a foothold in what Dr Boisselier believes
will be a $2 billion-a-year industry.
- For Raelians it will be the dawn of a
new era. Their religion was founded in the 1970s by Claude Vorilhon, a
former sport reporter. Now based in Canada, he has changed his name to
Rael and built a UFO theme park outside Montreal. He claims that aliens
visited him in 1973 to reveal the role of cloning as a "gateway to