Human cloning in two years away

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The Independent Online
Human clones could in principle be created in less than two years, the scientist who led the team which produced Dolly, the cloned sheep, said yesterday.

News of the breathrough in technology, revealed just 11 days ago, has given fresh hope to those hoping for a form of immortality through "cryonics" - the freezing of tissues at death.

However, any such attempts seem likely to meet a wall of intense public hostility, according to an exclusive Harris poll for The Independent which finds that 72 per cent of the public think that such work "should never be allowed, and all research into it should be stopped." Another 19 per cent thought the research should be allowed to continue, under strict controls, with a decision taken later. Only 4 per cent think that such cloning should be allowed when it becomes possible.

That majority view was echoed by Dr Ian Wilmut, of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, where Dolly was revealed to the world last month. He told MPs: "We would find this kind of work with human embryos offensive. We would support wholeheartedly the idea of prohibition in the most effective possible way."

But he said there was no reason why the technique could not be applied to humans by sufficiently determined researchers. "I've hesitated to make predictions, but I'm sure if you really wanted to do it, you could do it," he added. Dr Wilmut was giving evidence to a hastily called session of the cross-party Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology to investigate cloning.

Supporters of cryogenics have for years hoped that by freezing their bodies at the point of death they could survive long enough for the technology to develop so they could be revived. A number of US companies offer "freeze storage" on that basis. In principle, it might be possible to find a suitable cell from which to clone the dead person. A Norwegian man, Trygve Bauve, has become one of the first to say that his frozen grandfather, Bredo Morstol, could be brought back to life by cloning. The body has been kept covered in frozen carbon dioxide in a shed in Boulder County since 1994.

The Independent poll found that 54 per cent of people would support doctors being able to use genetic manipulation on test-tube babies to prevent them having serious inherited diseases and disabilities. Only 35 per cent opposed the idea. But 77 per cent oppose using such techniques to choose the sex of a test-tube baby, with just 15 per cent in favour.

Professor Graham Bulfield, director of the Roslin Institute, admitted that he could see in extremis circumstances where someone somewhere in the world might attempt human cloning. But Dr Wilmut said its suggested applications made no sense. "The idea that you can bring back a child, that you can bring back your father, it is simply nonsensical. You can make a genetically identical copy, but you can't get back the person you have lost." That may put the cryogenic lobby's enthusiasm back on ice.