Two fertility scientists have announced plans to create the first human clone within two years, despite new evidence that cloning can produce monstrous results.
Scientists say that creating healthy copies through cloning is harder than they had expected. Clones often have severe problems, such as developmental delays, heart defects and malfunctioning immune systems. In one example that sounds like science fiction, some cloned mice that had seemed normal suddenly grew grotesquely fat as young adults.
It?s not that one particular thing goes wrong, researchers say. Rather, the cloning process seems to create random errors that can produce a number of unpredictable problems, at any time in life. Fewer than 3% of cloning efforts succeed.
In cloning, scientists slip a cell from an adult into an egg with its genetic material removed. The egg then reprograms the adult cell?s genes so that they direct the development of an embryo that is genetically identical to the adult.
The problem seems to be that the egg has minutes to do a job that takes months or years normally, which can introduce random errors into the clone?s DNA. In the months it takes sperm to mature naturally, their genes are being reprogrammed. The same thing happens in eggs, where they slowly mature in the ovaries over years.
?With cloning, you are asking an egg to reprogram in minutes or, at most, in hours,? says Rudolph Jaenisch, a biologist at the Whitehead Institute at MIT. ?Serious problems have happened in all five species cloned so far, so of course it?s going to happen in humans. No question.?
Scientists shudder to think about what could happen if human beings are cloned using today?s techniques. It?s likely that the clone would have genetic abnormalities that could either be fatal or subtle and devastating. ?It would be morally indefensible,? said Brigid Hogan, professor of cell biology at Vanderbilt University.
?It would be reckless and irresponsible,? agrees Jaenisch. ?What do you do with humans who are born with half a kidney or no immune system?? He also spoke about the real possibility of creating children who appear normal but whose genes for neurological development do not function correctly.
Other scientists, like Richard Rawlins, who directs the in vitro fertilizations laboratory for the Rush Health System in Chicago, say it?s only a matter of time. ?In my opinion,? he said, ?all it takes right now is time, money and talent. The only question is who will do it first.?
Two infertility experts, Dr. Panayiotis Zavos of Lexington, Kentucky, and Dr. Severino Antinori, a doctor in Rome, have recently announced they want to clone humans. They say hundreds of infertile couples have come to them for the experiment, which will take place in an unnamed Mediterranean country. Full human cloning is banned in many countries, but it is legal in the U.S. and Italy.
The Vatican has denounced the proposal as ?grotesque.?
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