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Wednesday, August 26, 1998 Published at 00:33 GMT 01:33 UK


The race to clone the first human

Supporters of cloning say it will become as acceptable as IVF

In 1997, British scientists successfully clone a sheep named Dolly.

Randy Wicker: "The debate will end when someone does it"
In 1998, an American billionaire pays a cloning expert $5m to recreate his favourite pet collie mongrel.

What is the betting 1999 will see someone come up with the first cloned human embryo?

[ image: The cloning of mice was a breakthrough]
The cloning of mice was a breakthrough
Scientists are believed to be close to making the breakthrough. Last year scientists at the University of Hawaii successfully cloned 50 mice, whose genetic make-up is quite close to that of humans.

As American laboratories race to become the first to produce a cloned human embryo the US Congress has been grappling with the legislation.

[ image: Congress has struggled with cloning legislation]
Congress has struggled with cloning legislation
President Bill Clinton backed a bill which would have outlawed human cloning but the legislation was drawn so loosely it would have outlawed all genetic research. Opponents tore it apart and it never saw the light of day.

Scientists are speeding matters up now in the hope they can break the taboo on cloning before it is made illegal.

Lee Silver: "Clones will be nothing out of the ordinary"
Lee Silver, a genetics professor at Princeton University near New York, says: "There are definitely going to be human clones, which is what most people are worried about.

"But after they are born we are not going to call them clones, they are going to be normal children."

Kirsty Wark chairs a debate between cloning supporter Mark Eibert and Dr Patrick Dixon
Supporters of cloning, such as US litigation expert Mark Eibert, say it would help infertile couples but critics say it is unnecessary and open to abuse.

But the scientists are not waiting for the outcome of the moral and legal arguments.

Genetics expert Steen Willadsen says there are no shortage of labs queuing up to be the first to clone a human: "It is a relatively simple procedure. There must be hundreds of people who would be able to do it now.

"It would only take a couple of years plus the obligatory nine months."

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