Scientists scoff at cloned baby claim

CLAIMS that the world’s first human clone has been created by a company linked to a religious cult has been greeted by scepticism from leading scientists.

The revelation that baby Eve, said to be a carbon copy of her mother, was allegedly born by Caesarean section on Boxing Day following an embryo experiment was met with revulsion yesterday from the international community.

The cloning process is said to have been carried out in the US by Clonaid which is affiliated to the Raelian sect - a religious cult that believes life on Earth was created by extra terrestrials 25,000 years ago.

Brigitte Boisselier, a French chemist and a bishop of the Raelian sect, revealed that the 7lb newborn is the first of five "successful" embryos which are all said to have been created using a cloning process similar to the one pioneered by scientists at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh.

However leading fertility expert Sir Robert Winston today said he believed Ms Boisselier’s cloned baby claims were "a lot of hot air".

He added: "It’s about as realistic as me saying I’ve built a bridge across the Channel that no one’s seen and expect to be believed just because I’m a scientist.

"I think we should take this with a huge amount of Christmas salt. This strange cult is publicity seeking. Nearly all scientists will regard Clonaid’s claims as ludicrous."

Dr Harry Griffin, who runs the Roslin Institute that cloned Dolly the sheep, said the scientific community would have to see evidence before it was convinced the baby had been cloned.

He said: "We need hard evidence that it’s been done and about success rates so they can comment with some authority on what at the moment can be characterised as a publicity stunt."

Scientists are still waiting to carry out tests to confirm the claims by the Raelians, who were unable to produce any DNA evidence to show a genetic match at a press conference in the US.

It was not disclosed where Eve was born but she was expected to leave hospital on Monday with her mother, a 31-year-old American divorcee who already has a child. She was said to have donated her DNA for the cloning process and had the resulting embryo implanted.

The announcement of Eve’s birth triggered a chorus of international condemnation, including calls for laws banning all human cloning.

British anti-cloning campaigners described the birth as an example of the sordid depths to which maverick scientists had plummeted.

Ms Boisselier said Clonaid, established in 1997 by Claude Vorilhon, the founding member of the Raelian sect, had begun human cloning last spring when it implanted ten embryos.

Five were "spontaneously terminated" while five were "successful", she said.

She said: "The next one is due in Europe next week. So it’s very close, and the three others will be born by the end of January, maybe early February."

Eve was "healthy", she said, adding: "This baby is not a monster or the results of something disgusting. I’m creating life and I would like to think of science as the creation of life."

Dr Patrick Dixon, a leading expert on the ethics of human cloning, said the world would react with "revulsion and disgust" if the claims were proved.

He said: "There’s a global race by maverick scientists to produce clones, motivated by fame, money and warped and twisted beliefs."

"The baby has been born into a living nightmare with a high risk of malformations, ill-health, early death and unimaginably severe emotional pressures."

A spokesman for the ProLife Alliance added: "The world is full of unscrupulous mavericks who have no hesitation in experimenting on human beings in this degrading and destructive way."

So far, scientists have succeeded in cloning sheep, mice, cows, pigs, goats and cats. Eve was allegedly born following a similar technique to that used to create Dolly the sheep.

Scientists removed genetic material from an unfertilised egg before introducing new DNA from a cell of the creature to be cloned.

Once home, Eve is expected to be analysed by a group of independent specialists who will take DNA samples from both the mother and baby to ascertain the truth of the claims.

Also attempting to create a human clone is American fertility expert Dr Panos Zavos and Professor Severino Antinori of Rom .

US President George W Bush has called on Congress to outlaw human cloning and French President Jacques Chirac branded news of Eve’s birth as "criminal and contrary to human dignity".

Downing Street left comment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority which said it was "concerned".