High School Biology: Biology: Cloning

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Note: Pages will open in a new browser window CHICAGO (CNN) -- A scientist who plans to clone babies for infertile couples believes any opposition to his work will be short-lived. "I think it will blow over," Richard G. Seed told CNN on Wednesday.

"There were an awful lot of people against the automobile, too," he said in a live interview by telephone from Chicago. "Any new technology ... creates fear and horror." But as time passes, human cloning will receive "enthusiastic endorsement," he said.

Seed, who has a Harvard doctorate in physics and has done fertility research in the past, plans to begin his work on a human clone within three months . "My target is to produce a two-month pregnant female (within the next 18 months)," he said.

If he is barred from pursuing his work in the United States, Seed said he plans to go to another country. He said he has talked with officials in Tijuana, Mexico, and also was considering the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas.

In a separate interview with National Public Radio (NPR) correspondent Joe Palca, , Seed said it was his objective to set up profitable human clone clinics, first in the Chicago area and then at "10 or 20 other locations" in the U.S. and "maybe five or six" internationally.

Seed, who is not a medical doctor, says he has already assembled a group of doctors willing to work with him and has four couples who have volunteered to be cloned.

The goal for each of them is to achieve a pregnancy within a year and a half.

The researchers will use a donor cell from either the mother or father and test it for genetic abberations, he said.

He declined to name any of the couples and it was not immediately clear where in the Chicago area Seed planned to open his proposed clinic. He told USA Today he needs $2 million to begin his privately funded project but has only raised "a few hundred thousand" dollars.

Same technique used in sheep cloning

Seed plans to use the same technique utilized by Scottish scientists in 1996 to clone the adult sheep Dolly, the first mammal cloned from adult tissue.

The human cloning procedure involves taking an unfertilized egg from a female, removing the nucleus, which contains most of the genetic information, and replacing it with the nucleus of a cell from the person to be cloned.

The hard part is tricking this egg into acting as if it has been fertilized by a sperm, thus starting it dividing as if it were a new baby, instead of just creating more skin cells or liver cells or cells of whatever organ the nucleus was taken from.

If the technique is successful, the fertilized egg would grow to 50 to 100 cells and the embryo would then be transferred to a woman. A baby clone would be born nine months later.

Seed says the cloned babies he and his colleagues would create would have no chromosomal damage and a normal life span.

He first talked about his plans December 5 at a little-noticed Chicago symposium on reproductive technologies sponsored by the Illinois Institute of Technology, Palca told CNN. (242K/22 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Ethical, legal dilemma

After Dolly was cloned, President Clinton set up an advisory group which recommended last year that Congress pass a law making human cloning illegal.

Harold Shapiro, who headed the panel -- the National Bioethics Advisory Committee -- believes Seed's project is "scientifically and clinically premature," with many legal and ethical issues yet to be resolved.

In the future, however, Shapiro acknowledged there might be cases where human cloning could benefit infertile couples. (233K/22 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Clinton issued an executive order blocking the use of federal funds on human cloning research and proposed a law banning such research for five years, actions Seed disagrees with. "I am an independent thinker," he told NPR.

Several measures to ban cloning are awaiting action in Congress. In the meantime, the Food and Drug Administration says it has the authority to regulate human cloning research.

The American Medical Association said Wednesday it does not have an official policy on the subject but expects members to discuss the issue at a meeting in June. --- CNN