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In February 1997 Dr Ian Wilmut at the Roslin Institute in Scotland announced that he had produced a cloned sheep, named Dolly. In a ground breaking experiment, Dr Wilmut and his team had taken an unfertilized egg from one sheep and removed its DNA. They achieved this by removing the egg's nucleus, and leaving just the surrounding cytoplasm. They then took a cell from the udder of another sheep and fused this udder cell with the empty egg. In this manner they tricked the egg into beginning the process of growing into a fetus without the input of a sperm. The lamb which resulted from this process was a genetic clone of the second female sheep. Since then other researchers have used similar processed with mice and cows, proving that cloning mammals is now a reality.

Above all it is the agricultural industry which has been interested in cloning. Farmers would like to be able to clone cows that produce a lot of milk, for example. or sheep that produce a lot of wool. But in principle there is no reason why cloning techniques could not be applied to human beings - and it is this possibility that has captured people's imaginations. When news of Dolly hit the press, it was not cloned sheep, but cloned people that generated all the excitement. Then in early 1998 maverick physicist Richard Seed announced he was going to start a human cloning clinic. Whether Dr Seed will succeed in this task is rather doubtful, but it seems likely that sooner or later someone will indeed begin cloning humans. If and when that day comes, science will have thrown up yet another set of thorny ethical issues. But one thing is certain, as theologian Ted Peters stresses, if a baby does come into the world by cloning it will be no less a human being - and from a Christian perspective, no less "a child of God" - than any other baby.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Margaret Wertheim

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