Tuesday, February 9, 1999 Published at 17:02 GMT
Human clone claim in doubt
Experts believe the question is becoming when, not if, a human will be cloned
Serious doubt has been cast on the claim of the first cloned human embryo, made by Korean scientists last December.
"They insist they did this, but I don't know," said Seo Chung Sun in Science magazine. He is a biochemist at Seoul National University and headed the investigation.
The scientists who say they performed the experiment at the Kyung Hee Health Centre in Seoul, Dr Kim Seung Bo and Dr Lee Bo Yon, gave their first in-depth interview to BBC One's Panorama, broadcast on Monday. They said their experiment was for research purposes only but observers believe their aim is human cloning.
Dr Kim said: "I believe the cloning of a human cell can provide a step forward in the treatment of human fertility."
He explained why his experiment had been stopped after the cloned cell had divided to four cells: this was the stage at which cells would be implanted into a woman's womb and, for research reasons, he wanted to see if this stage could be achieved by cloning.
Asked when he thought a cloned human baby would be born, Dr Kim told the BBC: "Much sooner than you think."
His colleague, Dr Lee said: " I didn't start the experiment out of playful curiosity. I think this technique will help infertile patients a great deal."
These latest developments have further fuelled the debate surrounding human reproductive cloning.
Dr Donald Bruce, a scientist and director of the Church of Scotland's Society, Religion and Technology Project, told the BBC he was sceptical that cloning could happen at present.
"When you try to clone mammals in this way, all sorts of problems occur. The Farm Animal Welfare Council are calling for a moratorium on commercial animal cloning until animal welfare problems have been resolved," he said.
Lord David Alton, a member of the UK's upper house of parliament, said there were enormous ethical difficulties with human cloning: "There is a real danger that what we create . . . won't be authentically human, a sort of living dead."