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Human clones claim

Mark Henderson looks at Science in the news

An Italian fertility specialist, who has previously courted controversy by helping a 62-year-old woman to give birth, has caused further outrage by announcing plans to create the world's first human being.

Professor Severino Antinori, who claims to have been approached by hundreds of childless couples volunteering for the procedure, intends to start work on the project in October, in an unnamed Mediterranean country.

The plan is to use cell nuclear replacement - the technique used to create Dolly, the cloned sheep - in which DNA from a cell taken from the father would be injected into the empty nucleus of one of the mother's eggs. The resulting embryo would have the physical characteristics of the father.

The attempt has been widely criticised as irresponsible and unethical by scientists, religious groups and politicians, including Ian Wilmut, the British researcher who created Dolly at the Roslin Insitute near Edinburgh. He says cloning, even of animals, is so raw a technology that it would be far too dangerous to attempt on humans. Only a very few embyros created by cloning survive for long, and cloned animals have often been born with serious defects, such as respiratory or brain abnormalities. International Associated Research Institute for Human Reproduction (Professor Antinori's clinic). Institute Science magazine, where Dr Wilmut wrote his response to Professor Antinori's plans.

IT is not easy being a baboon: apes in Kenya's Serengeti game reserve have such pampered lives that they suffer from stress over sexual politics, pecking orders and bullying in much the same way as people.

They are even developing similar medical symptoms: stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and unhealthy cholesterol levels, according to new research by American scientists.

Serengeti baboons have to spend little time foraging for food and are seldom threatened by disease or predators, Professor Robert Sapolsky of Stanford University has found. That gives them plenty of plenty of time to dwell on the sort of things that worry people in the West, he says. The ones that cope bes are those with the strongest friendships and the most secure group rank; those that become ill are neurotic types who are forever concerned about what others think of them.

Professor Sapolsky says: "We're ecologically privileged enough that we can invent social and psychological stress. Baboons in the Serengeti, who only work three hours a day to meet their caloric needs, are similarly privileged. They ulcerate because of social complexities."

www.stanford.edudeptnewsreportnewsfebruary21aaassapolsky-221.html Stanford university report on Professor Sapolsky's study Professor Sapolsky's home page

HUMAN beings have only about 30,000 genes - just twice as many as the fruit fly, and 4,000 more than a garden weed called thale cress - the first analysis of the map of the human genome has revealed.

The results of the rival public and private sector efforts to plot the genetic code have surprised many scientists, and forced a re-evaluation of the ways genes affect human development and behaviour.

The total number of genes is simply too small to support the idea that human beings are "hard-wired" (the idea that behaviour or health is rigorously determined by genes) by the DNA they inherit from their parents. Researchers now agree that the complex ways genes interact with one another, and the environmental factors that influence every individual uniquely, may be more important than raw genetic material.

Craig Venter of Celera, the private genomics company, says: "In everyday language the talk is about a gene for this and a gene for that. We are now finding that that is rarely so. The number of genes that work in that way can almost be counted on your fingers, because we are just not hard-wired in that way."

www.nature.comgenomicshuman Nature magazine, with Human Genome Project results

www.sciencemag.orggenome2001 Science magazine, with Celera results Celera Genomics Sanger Centre (UK base for Human Genome Project) Wellcome Trust (Medical charity sponsor of the research) Mark Henderson is science editor of The Times

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