The first cloned baby will be implanted before the end of the year, according to a leading scientist.
The claim was made by controversial cloning expert Dr Panayiotis Zavos, who said he had already created and frozen the embryo that will be used.
Speaking in London he said the baby will become a girl if the pregnancy goes to term.
Experts believe this could be the first serious attempt to clone a human, as Dr Zavos is an expert in his field. Claims by the Raelian cult last year to have created a cloned baby have been widely dismissed due to lack of evidence.
The embryo, says Dr Zavos, is currently frozen and being held in a secret location. He said he has already tried to perform the controversial procedure-once this year but the surrogate mother developed complications in July and the attempt was aborted.
He has been perfecting his cloning technique by creating hybrid embryos, which are theoretically viable, made by fusing human cells with empty cow eggs. He claims to have created more than 200 of these while “practising” for a human clone.
“The aim of creating these hybrids is simply to perfect the techniques for cloning humans, we are not trying to create monsters. We’ve created the first human embryo for reproductive purposes,” said Dr Zavos, director of the Andrology Institute of America-and associate director of the Kentucky Center for Reproductive Medicine and IVF.
Dr Zavos has pledged to reveal both mother and baby once the birth has taken place.
“I’m a great believer in showing proof, but we will do it in such a way that they can live a normal life. It’s very important they have a private life,” he said in a video interview on his website.
Professor Richard Gardner of Oxford University, who is also chairman of the Royal Society working group on stem cells and cloning, claims the likelihood of the experiment ending happily is “small”.
He said: “We know from looking at cloning attempts in other mammals that the success rate is often under one per cent, and in humans that is probably less.” However, a spokesman for the Royal Society, which opposes reproductive cloning, conceded “Dr Zavos is a good researcher”.
Dr Jackie O’Connell of Cambridge University also expressed doubts over the research and its chances of success, if true. “The major problem with cloning is that many embryos survive to the blastocyst stage, of 128 cells, but then there’s a massive rate of attrition. Most implanted cloned embryos never reach maturity,” she said.
The experiment is being carried out in a secret location outside the US and Europe, which outlaw human cloning for reproduction. There is speculation Dr Zavos may be doing the work in the Middle East or even China.