Scientists welcome move to clone sheep

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Science Correspondent

Sheep could in future be even harder to tell apart, following the announcement by British researchers that they have managed to clone sheep - a technique which could revolutionise livestock breeding.

The researchers from the Roslin Institute at Edinburgh said their breakthrough could be used to create identical animals, and to produce genetically manipulated meat and milk on factory farms.

But their work was attacked yesterday by the pressure group Compassion in World Farming, which warned that it could generate unexpected problems. "We don't think it's good news for farmers, because it could reduce biodiversity," said Tim O'Brien, the group's research director. "Cloning that results in identical animals could mean that if one gets infected with a deadly disease, all the others will - it could eliminate the whole flock."

Ian Wilmut, an embryologist at the Roslin Institute, said the technique - the clones were produced by removing cells from a sheep embryo and growing them - could be used to produce uniform animals for meat production. "It's to the advantage of the farmer to have a uniform group of animals. They reach slaughter age at the same time, and it's to the advantage of the slaughterer to have animals of a uniform type," he said.

Davor Solter, of the Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology in Freiburg, Germany, called the work, reported today in the science journal Nature, "a cause for celebration".

"Aside from its intrinsic biological interest, this achievement opens up the possibility of manipulating the sheep's genes before cloning them." he wrote in a commentary.