AP, Jan. 16, 2003
By JAY REEVES, Associated Press Writer
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. AP) – Alabama A&M University professor Hortense Dodo has two keen interests: cloning peanuts and spreading the message that human life was created by space aliens.
Dodo, a microbiologist who researches peanut genetics at the north Alabama school, is a leading member of the Raelian Movement, the small religious group linked to a company that claims to have cloned a baby girl named Eve.
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When not working to perfect allergen-free peanuts through cloning, Dodo is the Raelian guide reaching out to the “African diaspora” in the United States and worldwide.
“It’s something like a priest,” said Dodo, who was born in West Africa and has worked at the historically black school for 10 years.
While many have a hard time believing that the Raelians cloned a person or that ET created humanity, Dodo embraces both ideas.
“I am a scientist. I am a Raelian,” she said. Dodo said she keeps her religious views out of the classroom.
The Raelian movement is small, claiming only 55,000 members in 84 countries. By comparison, there are more than 1 million Southern Baptists in Alabama.
Dodo and another Huntsville scientist, Damien Marsic, have been widely quoted as Raelian spokespeople since Clonaid announced the birth late last month of what would be the first person produced through cloning.
The company, founded and run by sect members, has provided no proof of its claim, and the scientific community generally has rejected the announcement as unsubstantiated.
But it’s an exciting time for believers like Dodo, who describes herself as one of “four or five” Raelians (pronounced RYE (elians)- in Huntsville, a scientific hub since NASA’s rocket programs were born there more than 50 years ago.
The mix between mainstream science and the Raelians concerns some researchers, who fear the public will become more skeptical about therapeutic cloning because of the group’s unusual religious beliefs.
“There do seem to be some legitimately trained scientists out there who are believers,” said Guy Caldwell, an assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Alabama.
Raised a Christian, Dodo said she had a hard time reconciling either the biblical story of creation or the scientific theory of evolution with her scientific background.
Everything clicked, she said, when she read the messages that former French writer Claude Vorilhon claimed to have received from space aliens who visited Earth in 1973. Vorilhon now goes by the name Rael.
In essence, Raelians teach that aliens created human life by genetic engineering and that cloning is a path to immortality. Biblical accounts that credit God with creation were misinterpreted, Raelians claim: They contend aliens really did it.
“Once I read the Raelian messages I understood,” said Dodo. “It just made sense. It brought together my scientific background and my Christian background.”
As the Raelian guide to blacks, Dodo speaks to groups about her beliefs. Huntsville-area Raelians helped bring Clonaid president Brigitte Boisselier, a Raelian bishop, to town last year for a cloning conference at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
Dodo also works to promote education and Internet access in her native Africa.
“Rael said back in the ’70s the Internet would be the nervous system of humanity,” she said. “Aside from being a Raelian, as an educator I believe it is something that is critically needed.”
At A&M, Dodo has received government grants to conduct research on peanut genetics. Her goal is to develop an allergen-free peanut to solve the problem of peanut allergies, a condition that affects millions and can be fatal in its most serious form.
Dodo said her first stand of cloned peanut plants is growing but has yet to produce a crop. Success could be worth millions, but Dodo said helping humanity is the main goal.
“The most important thing is it could save lives,” she said.