December 27, 2002
Posted at: 8:35 a.m. CDT
Updated at: 10:20 p.m. CDT
The 7-pound baby was born Thursday, said Brigitte Boisselier, head of Clonaid, the company that claimed success in the project. She wouldn't say where the baby was born.
Even before the announcement, other scientists expressed doubt that her group could clone a human.
Boisselier, who spoke at a news conference, said the baby is a clone of the 30-year-old American woman who donated the DNA for the cloning process, had the resulting embryo implanted and then gestated the baby. If confirmed, that would make the child an exact genetic duplicate of her mother.
"It is very important to remember that we are talking about a baby," she said. "The baby is very healthy. She is fine, she doing fine. The parents are happy. I hope that you remember them when you talk about this baby, not like a monster, like some results of something that is disugusting."
Boisselier did not immediately present DNA evidence showing a genetic match between mother and daughter, however. That omission leaves her claim scientifically unsupported.
The group expects four more babies to be born in the next few weeks, another from North America, one from Europe and two from Asia.
She said the baby will go home in three days, and an independent expert will take DNA samples from the baby to prove she had been cloned. Those test results are expected within a week after the testing.
Most scientists, already skeptical of Boisellier's ability to produce a human clone, will probably demand to know exactly how the DNA testing was done before they believe the announcement.
Clonaid was founded in the Bahamas in 1997 by Claude Vorilhon, a former French journalist and leader of a group called the Raelians. Vorilhon and his followers claim aliens visiting him in the 1970s revealed they had created all life on Earth through genetic engineering.
Cloning produces a new individual using only one person's DNA. The process is technically difficult but conceptually simple. Scientists remove the genetic material from an unfertilized egg, then introduce new DNA from a cell of the animal to be cloned. Under the proper conditions, the egg begins dividing into new cells according to the instructions in the introduced DNA.
Boisselier, who claims two chemistry degrees and previously was marketing director for a chemical company in France, identifies herself as a Raelian "bishop" and said Clonaid retains philosophical but not economic links to the Raelians. She is not a specialist in reproductive medicine.
Human cloning for reproductive purposes is banned in several countries. There is no specific law against it in the United States, but the Food and Drug Administration contends it must approve any human experiments in this country. Boisselier would not say where Clonaid has been carrying out its experiments. Bush administration officials said in Washington on Thursday they were aware of rumors of an announcement but had no plans to comment on the matter until after the details were known.
In Rome, fertility doctor Severino Antinori, who said weeks ago he had engineered a cloned baby boy who would be born in January, dismissed Clonaid's claims and said the group has no scientific credibility.
The news "makes me laugh and at the same time disconcerts me, because it creates confusion between those who make serious scientific research" and those who don't, Antinori said.
"We keep up our scientific work, without making announcements," he added. "I don't take part in this ... race."
So far scientists have succeeded in cloning sheep, mice, cows, pigs, goats and cats. Last year, scientists in Massachusetts produced cloned human embryos with the intention of using them as a source of stem cells, but the cloned embryos never grew bigger than six cells.