Independent (England), Dec. 28, 2002
By Steve Connor, Science Editor
Either this was one of the most momentous announcements of all time or it was cheap gimmick designed to garner maximum publicity for an outlandish cult that believes in aliens from outer space. It might be both.
With all the theatrical pose of the Addams Family’s Morticia, a French chemist called Brigitte Boisselier stood before the world’s press yesterday to announce that the first cloned baby had been born to an American woman aged 31.
Smiling broadly before a bank of microphones, Ms Boisselier said the baby had been cloned by a team of anonymous scientists from unnamed institutes who fused the genetic material from a skin cell of the woman with one of her own eggs. No sperm was involved, she said, but no proof was offered.
The baby is apparently healthy and has been nicknamed “Eve” by Ms Boisselier and her colleagues. The girl, weighing 7lbs, was delivered on Boxing Day by Caesarean section at a hospital in an unspecified country and would be allowed home in three days, Ms Boisselier said.
“It is very important to remember that we are talking about a baby,” she said. “The baby is very healthy. She is doing fine. The parents are happy. I hope that you remember them when you talk about this baby. [She is] not like a monster, like some results of something that is disgusting.”
Doctors and other scientists immediately condemned the claim, saying it was unfounded and unethical. The British fertility specialist Robert Winston said those behind the announcement had no scientific credibility.
“These people are barking mad. If you believe in extraterrestrials, it says it all. One will only believe they have cloned a baby if they provide the proof,” Lord Winston said.
Yet that is just what Clonaid, the company Ms Boisselier runs, intends to do. She said independent scientists would be allowed to test the baby’s DNA to see whether it is identical to that of the mother – as it must be if the girl is a true clone.
Clonaid is affiliated to the Raelian Movement, a cult whose followers believe that alien scientists from another world created life on Earth 25,000 years ago using their own genetic material.
Ms Boisselier thanked the leader of the movement, Claude Vorilhon, a former motoring journalist. She called him by his religious name, Rael, which was apparently given to him by a visitor from space. She described him as her spiritual leader.
Ms Boisselier has entrusted the task of providing proof of the cloning to another journalist, Michael Guillen, a freelance writer who said he was science editor for ABC News for 14 years.
Mr Guillen, who has a doctorate in physics, said he had agreed to act as arbiter on two conditions: that there would be no strings attached and that the DNA tests would be conducted by scientists of his choice who were completely independent of Clonaid or the Raelians. After the tissue samples have been collected from the baby and her mother – in three days’ time – tests will be done and the results will be revealed in about a week, Mr Guillen said.
Ms Boisselier said she was confident the tests would prove the baby was a clone. “You can still go back to your office and treat me as a fraud,” she told the assembled journalists at a press conference in Hollywood, Florida. “You have one week to do that.”
Ms Boisselier said four other women were also pregnant with cloned babies. One is due to give birth next week in an unspecified country in northern Europe and two somewhere in Asia at the end of next month.
The baby to be born in Europe was the child of a lesbian couple and the two other babies were clones of children whose tissue was preserved before they died, Ms Boisselier said.
This is not the first time that maverick scientists have claimed to have cloned human embryos and implanted them into women. Severino Antinori, an Italian fertility doctor, has claimed on two occasions to have done so, saying that one woman was expected to give birth next month.
Dr Antinori said yesterday’s claim “makes me laugh and at the same time disconcerts me, because it creates confusion between those who make serious scientific research” and those who do not.
“We keep up our scientific work, without making announcements. I don’t take part in this … race,” he said.
Robert Lanza, a cloning specialist at Advanced Cell Technology, a company based in Massachusetts that produced the first reported cloned human embryo last year, said Clonaid had “no scientific credibility at this point”.
But he did not dismiss the possibility of success. In some respects, cloning to produce a baby might be easier than cloning an embryo to produce stem cells for medical research. “They may be able to bypass many of the problems that we would encounter in the laboratory,” Dr Lanza said.
Ms Boisselier said the technique used to clone the baby girl was similar to that used to produce Dolly the sheep, the first clone generated from the cell of an adult mammal. This involved transferring a nucleus from a skin cell into an egg cell that had had its own nucleus removed, to create a viable embryo.
The Dolly experiment involved 277 attempts to produce one pregnancy that resulted in the birth of a healthy, live offspring. Although other cloning researchers have since improved this efficiency rate, animal studies suggest that the technique is still far too dangerous for humans.
Ms Boisselier said Clonaid scientists began experiments with about 3,000 cow eggs in August 2001 and moved to human eggs in January.
After three months of experiments that had produced cloned human embryos in a test tube, Clonaid implanted 10 women with the embryos. Five of the women had miscarriages, Ms Boisselier said. She said a further 20 women had already been chosen for the second phase of the project. After these women had had the opportunity to become pregnant with cloned embryos, the service would be offered at clinics in each continent, she said.
Asked about payments, Ms Boisselier replied: “Nobody has paid me for anything so far. Maybe that will change. We will offer a service, and we will be asking for money.”
THE MAN WHO CLAIMS CLONING ‘HOLDS THE KEY TO ETERNAL LIFE’
By Charles Arthur
Claude Vorilhon was a French journalist who specialised in writing about car racing until 13 December 1973, when he visited extinct volcanos in Clermont-Ferrand, France.
He claims he was then contacted by a visitor from another planet, who descended in something the size of a small bus, conical with a flashing white light on its top. Two years later, he was taken to the aliens’ planet and shown various super-advanced technologies, including a cloning system that produced five lissom women who, he wrote, “submitted to all my desires” in an “unforgettable bath”.
He said the alien called him Rael, so he changed his name to match. The aliens also said “sensual meditation” was “the key to mastering the harmonising possibilities in the brain, given to us by those who designed the human”. A good form for such meditation would be sexual, he was told.
So was born the Raelian religion, or cult. Its basic tenets are that humans were created by the cloning of aliens 25,000 years ago and that the super-being Elohim will return in 2025 to Jerusalem and liberate from earthly sorrows people with the “proper” awareness.
The group has an liberal approach to sex (though condoms are obligatory) and its symbol, a whirling wheel in a Star of David, represents the idea that “everything runs in cycles”. It sounds like a combination of the tales told by the science-fiction author L Ron Hubbard to underpin the doctrines of Scientology (which claims the life force behind humans arrived on Earth 35,000 years ago), the standard UFO visitation stories and a touch of the 1968 film Barbarella. Oddly, in November 1974, the rock group Genesis released an album with a story whose central character was Rael.
But the movement appears to be thriving, claiming 55,000 devotees worldwide and operating a theme park, UFOland, near Montreal. In the Nineties, Quebec granted the movement religious status. Its devotees have distributed condoms among Canadian teenagers and tried to convert Roman Catholics.
Clonaid, which made yesterday’s announcement, was founded in February 1997, shortly after scientists in Scotland announced the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned from adult cells. Its goal was to produce the first human clone.
Brigitte Boisselier, a former chemistry teacher, is a Raelian who has said her daughter, aged 24, would carry a cloned baby. Raelhanded the project to Ms Boisselier, claiming “cloning is the key to eternal life”. Experts say she does not have a record in any cloning. Rael’s response? “Nothing can stop science.”
David King, the director of Human Genetics Alert, a group pushing for human cloning to be criminalised, said: “These claims have very little to do with reality, and more about a cult’s ploy to boost membership and funds.”