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First human clone is ‘born’, or has the world been monstrously duped?

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

28 December 2002

A company affiliated to a cult whose followers believe that extraterrestrials created life on Earth claimed yesterday to have created the world’s first human clone.

The baby girl ­ nicknamed “Eve” ­ was born on Boxing Day in an unspecified country to a 31-year-old American woman whose skin and eggs were fused to create a viable human embryo that had not been fertilised by sperm, the company said.

Brigitte Boisselier, the French chemist who heads the Clonaid company, said the girl weighed 7lbs at birth, was healthy and normal, and would be going home from hospital within the next three days.

At a news conference yesterday in Hollywood, Florida, Ms Boisselier confidently predicted that DNA tests would confirm that the baby girl and her mother shared 100 per cent of their DNA ­ making the baby the first human clone to be born.

Ms Boisselier offered no proof of the girl’s existence or her genetic match with her mother. But she promised that DNA tests by independent scientists would be completed in about a week.

Smiling to the assembled journalists, Ms Boisselier said: “You can still go back to your office and treat me as a fraud. You have one week to do that.”

Ms Boisselier also announced that four other women were about to give birth to cloned babies. One was said to be a European woman in a lesbian relationship whose baby is due next week.

The independent tests will be done by world-class scientists who are not affiliated to Clonaid in any way and there will be no strings attached to the test procedures, said Michael Guillen, a former journalist for ABC television in the US who was chosen by Clonaid to organise the DNA tests.

Ms Boisselier refused to give any personal details of the parents or their child, saying only that the girl was delivered by Caesarean section and her mother had an older daughter by a previous relationship.

“I saw them becoming so happy with the birth coming and yesterday I can tell you it was the best day of their lives and I wish them a very happy life and I wish this baby girl a very happy life,” she said.

“The baby is very healthy. She is doing fine. [She is] not like a monster, like some results of something that is disgusting.”

The woman’s husband is infertile, which is why they chose to have a cloned baby rather than conceive through sperm donation, Ms Boisselier said.

The scientists who carried out the work have also asked to remain anonymous because of fears of being sacked from their research institutes, but they hope one day to write up their accomplishments and publish them in a scientific journal, she said.

Until hard evidence in the form of DNA tests on the girl and her mother are presented and peer reviewed by independent experts, the claims are unlikely to be treated seriously by established scientists, especially given Clonaid’s background.

The company was founded in 1997 by Claude Vorilhon, a former French journalist who changed his name to “Rael” after claiming to have been abducted by aliens. Mr Vorilhon believes life on Earth was created by extraterrestrials using their own genetic material and has established a cult known as the Raelians. Ms Boisselier said Rael was her spiritual leader and thanked him for inspiring the work that led to the claimed cloning of Eve. She said: “I do believe that we have been created by scientists. I thank them for my life. If science created me, then science has done some good.”

Most scientists believe cloning humans is difficult, if not impossible. Dr Barry Zirkin, head of reproductive biology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, said: “It would be a surprise to me if it were that simple to clone humans. Based on the experience with animals, one would imagine it would take many many shots to actually get a human baby.”

The White House said President George Bush found Clonaid’s claims “deeply troubling” and he wanted Congress to ban human cloning.

President Jacques Chirac of France said the practice was “contrary to the dignity of man”. He urged all nations to sign a convention presented to the United Nations by France and Germany that is aimed at the “universal prohibition of human reproductive cloning”.