| Clonaid company founder Rael in a picture downloaded from its website. (AFP)
Hollywood, Florida, Dec. 27 (Reuters): A company associated with a group that believes extra-terrestrials created mankind claimed today that it had produced the first clone of a human being.
The company, Clonaid, announced it had created a healthy baby girl who was a clone of the 31-year-old American woman who gave birth to her.
“I’m very very pleased to announce that the first baby clone is born,” Clonaid director Brigitte Boisselier, a former research chemist in France, said at a news conference in Hollywood, north of Miami.
Boisselier, who offered no proof of her claim, said the girl was born on Thursday at 11.55 am, but did not disclose where the cloning had taken place. She said results of genetic testing of the child by an independent expert would be available in eight to nine days.
Clonaid is viewed sceptically by most scientists, who doubt the group’s technical ability to clone a human being. A Clonaid spokeswoman said an independent expert will confirm the baby is a clone through DNA testing.
Clonaid is linked to a sect called the Raelians, whose founder, Claude Vorihon, describes himself as a prophet and calls himself Rael. The group believes cloning could extend human life for hundreds of years.
Cattle, mice, sheep and other animals have been cloned with mixed success. Some animals have displayed defects later in life and scientists fear the same could happen with cloned humans.
Randall Prather, a reproductive biotechnology professor at the University of Missouri, said an independent expert not named by Clonaid would be essential to conduct DNA fingerprinting to determine the baby is in fact a clone.
“Is it possible in humans' Potentially. Have we seen problems with cloning domestic animals' Yes. Do we understand what causes those problems' No. Therefore we shouldn’t do it,” Prather said.
Clonaid has been racing the Italian fertility doctor Severion Antinori to produce the first cloned baby. Antinori said last month he expected one of his patients to give birth to a cloned baby in January.
President George W. Bush has asked Congress to ban the creation of cloned babies, as well as the cloning of human embryos for medical research. The House of Representatives passed a ban, but a similar Bill in the Senate stalled after scientists argued such a law would hinder medical advances.
Clonaid spokeswoman Nadine Gary said the baby had been born outside the US, but declined to say exactly where.
Non-profit and public interest groups have lined up on both sides of the controversy. Anticipating the announcement from Clonaid, a Chicago-based organisation called the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity said it condemned the effort.
“Regardless of the accuracy of the claim, the fact that renegade scientists are apparently continuing to work to clone human beings despite the proven dangers of mammalian cloning shows that the United States and the rest of the world need to pass a complete ban on this dangerous and unethical procedure as soon as possible,” said C. Ben Mitchell, a senior fellow at the centre.
The Vatican’s top moral theologian, Father Gino Concetti, also condemned the possibility of human cloning in a recent interview.
The Raelians, who claim 55,000 followers around the world, believe life on Earth was sparked by extra-terrestrials who arrived 25,000 years ago and created humans through cloning.