Tuesday September 23, 2003
Tim Radford, science editor
More than 60 of the world's leading science academies called yesterday for a UN ban on the reproductive cloning of humans, to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable people. But they also urged that any such ban should not extend to cloning human tissue for the treatment of diseases.
Britain forbids human cloning but has given the go-ahead to research into so-called therapeutic cloning for diseases such as Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.
The Royal Society - the "club" of Britain's most distinguished scientists - joined the call for a international ban on human cloning, along with a wider discussion of the possibilities opened by the second line of research.
Both acts begin with a single fertilised cell which doubles and doubles again to produce a ball of cells which could be the precursors of the 100 trillion cells of skin, blood, muscle, ligament, bone and nervous system in a human.
"At that point this thing, often called early embryo, is far less complex in any biological sense than the average potato," said Lord May of Oxford, president of the Royal Society.
The Raelian cult triggered a storm last year by claiming to have cloned babies. In fact, it is believed no humans have yet been cloned. Although cows, sheep, pigs, rabbits, mice, a cat and a horse have been cloned from adult donor cells, there may be intractable difficulties in cloning primates.
What worries the scientists is that cloning research was not begun simply for the sake of making new animals, but to sort out a riddle: if DNA contains the recipe for making a creature, why did a skin cell make only another skin cell? Could it become heart tissue?
The birth of Dolly the sheep in 1996, cloned from a cell from the mammary gland of another sheep, raised hopes of growing heart or nervous tissue to treat coronary or neuro-degenerative diseases.
But the 16,000 scientists represented by 63 academies believe that nations
should make up their own minds.
Copyright © 2003, Guardian Newspapers Limited