Scottish Sheep Shocker!

Update [posted 20 Jan 1998]
Scientists have just announced an "all-purpose" cloning technique that can grow several species of mammals inside cows eggs. Neal First and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison replaced the genetic material in cows eggs with chromosomes from pigs, monkeys, sheep and rats. Surprisingly, the embryos grew for a few days, although they never grew into mature animals. If perfected, the technique could be used to reproduce endangered species. Instead of donating eggs and sperm, they would just need to supply a few cells from any part of the body -- and a surrogate mother.

extra lamb  
Carbon copies?
POSTED 6 MAR 1997. The Feb. 27 issue of Nature described a scientific advance that can only be described as breathtaking -- and alarming. A researcher from Scotland had managed to grow a healthy adult sheep -- Dolly by name -- from genetic material from a single cell of an adult sheep.

On Mar. 4, President Clinton forbade the use of federal funds for human cloning research. He's already asked a bioethics advisory commission to issue recommendations on cloning research.

Over the past decade or so, other scientists have produced genetically identical copies -- clones -- of animals by dividing embryos (defined). But this was the first time anybody had made adult mammal genes behave like genes in a fertilized egg.

Dr. Ian Wilmut, the Scottish researcher, says he was just trying to modify sheep to produce valuable drugs in their milk. Other scientists said the technique could be used to create animal models for human disease for scientific study. Cloning might also be used to genetically alter pigs so their organs could be transplanted to humans.

Now for the scary part
So why did the announcement make page one? Why did the new medical technology spark a level of concern unseen since Baby Fae received a heart transplant from a babboon in the early 1980s? (Baby Fae died shortly after the transplant.)

Because Dolly was not a fruit fly. She was not a worm or a frog. She was a mammal. And that made it a bit difficult to ignore the possibility that the technology would be used -- or misused -- to create copies of real, live humans.

"It seems to be very likely that it would work with humans," says Brigid Hogan, a Vanderbilt University biologist who has advised the National Institutes of Health on embryo research. "You might have to play around with it, there might be some small technical differences," but chances are it could be made to work.

But Hogan -- like others knowledgeable about the technique -- calls cloning humans an appalling propsect: "It would be unethical and irresponsible and should not be allowed." Britain, she says, has already outlawed the process. While cloning would be legal in the United States, President Clinton has asked a bioethics panel to investigate and recommend changes in regulation.

If human cloning became a reality, who would be copied? Sting? The Duke of Earl? Saddaam Hussein? Or everybody's favorite -- their bloody selves?

Since the lab techniques seemed relatively simple, many scientists said that whether it was desirable or not, human cloning could go on in a small lab in any country that did not forbid it. And given that a single cell was the starting point, The Why Files wonders whether it could be done serruptitiously, say on a blood sample of an unsuspecting genius.

Just wondering: Is there something strange about the Brits and their livestock?

I've listened to enough speculation
What was the technique? Would it work on people? Do we really need this stuff, or is just another example of science gone amok? It's time for us Why Filers to earn our keep. Let's start sleuthing by trying to figure out what actually happened.

Facts may hurt, but there's no substitute for facts.

The Why Files
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