by Russ Kick
It’s now routine to see news stories about various mammals being cloned. Almost always, these reports mention that this “brings us one step closer to cloning humans,” “human clones are right around the corner,” and other clichés. What every last one of these insightful stories fails to mention is this: Humans have already been cloned.
I’m not talking about the “artificial twinning” experiments performed in 1993 at the Washington University Medical Center.1 Although newspapers were quick to trumpet this as human cloning, it was soon revealed that in reality this was a relatively primitive procedure in which an already-fertilized egg was split into two fertilized eggs. A nice party trick, but Mother Nature already does it thousand of times a day when she creates twins, triplets, etc.
The real cloning took place two years later, in 1995, although it wasn’t revealed until mid-November 1998.2 Unbelievably, only a few small newspaper stories weakly revealed one of the most important biotechnology developments of all time. In fact, it’s probably one of the most important developments in the history of science and technology, period.
Working under the auspices of the private company Advanced Cell Technology and using the facilities of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, scientists James Robl and Jose Cibelli created a human clone. They took cells from Cibelli’s leg and cheek, put them alongside a cow’s ovum with the genetic material stripped out, and added a jolt of electricity. One of Cibelli’s cells fused with the cow’s ovum, which acted as though it had been fertilized, and the cells began dividing. This is the same process used to create Dolly, the famous cloned sheep from Scotland, only this was done before Dolly was created.
A small story in the Boston Globe reported the following about this achievement:
The experiments were privately funded, and therefore aren’t bound by government regulations on embryo research....
The researchers fused a human skin cell with a cow egg stripped of its nucleus because that avoided using a scarce human egg to nurture the genetic program of the new embryo, they said.3
So what happened to the clone?
The scientists destroyed it when it reached the 32-cell stage. In other words, the zygote had already gone through five divisions and was on its way to becoming a human being. Scientists aren’t completely certain what would’ve happened if the zygote had been allowed to develop in a womb or in vitro, since such a thing has never been attempted (as far as we know), but Dr. Patrick Dixon has an educated guess:
If the clone had been allowed to continue beyond implantation it would have developed as Dr. Cibelli’s identical twin. Technically 1% of the human clone genes would have belonged to the cow—the mitochondria genes.
Mitochondria are power generators in the cytoplasm of the cell. They grow and divide inside cells and are passed on from one generation to another. They are present in sperm and eggs.
Judging by the successful growth of the combined human-cow clone creation, it appears that cow mitochondria may well be compatible with human embryonic development.4
Dixon is the author of ten books, including The Genetic Revolution, which in 1993 predicted many of the cutting-edge advances in biotech that have since come to pass. He was also responsible for catapulting Dolly to international stardom, convincing the first two newspapers that ran the story that this was indeed a newsworthy development.
As for why the experiment was performed, CEO Michael West said that it was strictly to harvest stem cells, not to create a human being.
As the Boston Globe article explained:
The embryos would be allowed to develop for only a few days, at which time they would be stripped of their “embryonic stem cells” that would be grown in laboratory dishes. These stem cells, the primordial cells in every human embryo from which all of the hundreds of different types of cells are descended, would be kept in their undifferentiated state for as long as needed.
Then, presumably, they could be directed to develop into one or more of a long list of tissues and organs to treat human illnesses, among them diabetes, heart failure and Alzheimer’s disease. However, the means to order stem cells down particular developmental paths are in their infancy.
Each patient’s own cells—scraped from a cheek or a piece of skin—would be used to make the human-cow embryo. The resulting donor tissues could then be transplanted back into the patient without the body’s immune system rejecting them, because they would be genetically identical.5
West explained why the zygote was destroyed at the 32-cell stage:
“‘We wanted to take a timeout,’ said Michael West, chief executive officer of Advanced Cell Technology Inc., ‘and get input from ethicists and public policy-makers’ before committing more time and money to the project.” 6
One month after this startling development, scientists in South Korea said that they, too, had cloned a human:
Researchers at the infertility clinic of Kyunghee University Hospital in Seoul said they had grown an early human embryo using an unfertilized egg and a cell donated by a woman in her 30s....
Lee Bo-yon, a researcher with the hospital’s infertility clinic, told Reuters that the human embryo in the Kyunghee University experiment divided into four cells before the operation was aborted.
“If implanted into a uterine wall of a carrier, we can assume that a human child would be formed and that it would have the same gene characteristics as that of the donor.” 7
Unlike the Advanced Cell Technology experiment, all cells involved in the Kyunghee experiment were human, and they all came from the same woman.
These stories would’ve probably created more of a stir if the embryos had been allowed to mature into full-fledged babies. It would make “great television” to show a gurgling baby while a voiceover explains that it’s a clone. Still, the silence is inexplicable. If the budding embryos hadn’t been destroyed at the 32-cell and 4-cell stages, they certainly had a good chance of becoming humans. Naturally, lots of embryos self-abort (i.e. miscarriages), and cloned animals have a higher-than-average rate of lethal mutations, so there are certainly no guarantees that the babies would’ve made it to term.
Despite that, though, the cloning of a human has already been accomplished. The ova were fertilized for all intents and purposes, and they were going through the normal divisions and growth that every one of us went through in the womb. Yet these red-letter days in science have been forgotten. Articles since then have utterly ignored these accomplishments.
For example, on August 5, 2000, an article in the Washington Post noted:
“Since the 1997 birth of Dolly—the first animal cloned from an adult cell—scientists around the world have announced successful clonings of mice, cows and most recently pigs.” 8
My heart skipped a beat when I saw this Associated Press headline on August 13, 2000: “Research on Human Cloning Hushed.” I thought that perhaps the media had remembered their own tiny reports in late 1998. No such luck. Amazingly, the article talks only about the possibility that humans probably could be cloned sometime in the indeterminate future, neglecting to mention that it’s already happened.
Here are some representative excerpts:
Dolly’s creators at Scotland’s Roslin Institute boasted she embodied the promise of animals that could produce drugs and organs for humans. But from the moment her birth was announced February 23, 1997, many interpreted her arrival as confirmation that cloning of humans lurked around the corner—despite the institute’s careful attempt to downplay that prospect.
“I’d be absolutely flabbergasted if we saw it in my lifetime,” Grahame Bulfield, Roslin’s chief executive, reiterates more than three years later. “It’s a nonsensical bit of hype.” Still, scientists say some of their colleagues are undoubtedly working on it, encouraged by further success with cloning animals such as cows and pigs.
[Dr. Severino Antinori, the head of the International Associated Research Institute in Rome] said many fertility clinics are beginning to take more seriously the idea of cloning babies.
Biologist Brigitte Boiselier, the Montreal-based scientific director of Clonaid, a company set up the month after Dolly’s birth was heralded with banner headlines worldwide, said her lab is trying to perfect cloning in humans.
Eric Schon, a molecular biologist at New York’s Columbia University, believes the creation of cloned babies could be two to five years away.
“If it can be done, it will be done,” he said. “The moment it could be done in sheep and mice and cows, it was only a matter of time for human cloning.” 9
I suppose this reporter could’ve missed the brief acknowledgements in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Knight Ridder, Reuters, the BBC, and Dr. Dixon’s heavily-trafficked Website that discussed the fact that humans have already been cloned, but how to explain the ignorance of the people quoted in the article?
Several theories spring to mind. Since the idea of cloning humans is so controversial, they don’t want to admit that it’s already happened. Given the fact thatAdvanced Cell Technology didn’t admit its research for three years, this seems quite possible.
It also seems that some scientists don’t feel that these accomplishments qualify as their definition of cloning, apparently because the embryos weren’t allowed to mature. They want to see a mewling infant; the fact that the ova were dividing and in the process of creating a human being doesn’t count for some reason. Do I sense professional jealousy?
Finally, owners of companies engaged in cloning obviously want to be credited with being the first to clone a human, so they’re not going to let the cat out of the bag. In the above AP article, notice that Brigitte Boiselier of Clonaid “said her lab is trying to perfect cloning in humans.” That’s a very telling word. She’s not trying to develop it, create it, devise it, pioneer it, or anything like that—she’s trying to “perfect” it, which leads me to believe that she knows it’s already been done, and Clonaid may have done it themselves.
Given the secrecy in this area—not only did Advanced Cell Technology keep the lid on for three years, but even the announcement of Dolly was delayed until she was eight months old—you have to wonder what other human cloning news has been kept from us. After all, the Americans created their clone in 1995, and the Koreans in 1998. What’s happened in the years since then? For all we know, there might be babies and toddlers out there who are clones.
But that is speculative, while the achievements of the American and Korean scientists are not. The next time some news report breathlessly announces that human clones could possibly be created sometime soon, just remember that you’re being lied to. They already have been.
1. Anonymous. (1993). “Embryo experiment succeeds.” New York Times, Oct 24.
2. Saltus, Richard. (1998).
“News of human-cow cell raises ruckus.” Boston Globe, November 14; McFarling, Usha Lee. (1998).
“Bioethicists warn that human cloning will be difficult to stop,” Knight Ridder, November 18;
“First cloned human embryo revealed,” BBC News, June 17.
3. Op cit., Saltus.
4. Dixon, Patrick, Dr. “Human cloning from cow eggs and human cells.” Global Change Website.
5 . Op cit., Saltus.
6 . Ibid.
7 . Dixon, Patrick, Dr. “Human cloning: First embryo made in Korea or Britain?” From original article by Reuters. Global Change Website.
See also anonymous (1998).
“Human cloning?: Cloning research in South Korea.” MacLean’s, Dec 28, p 110; anonymous. (1999).
“Human cloning research proceeds in South Korea.” The Christian Century, Jan 20, p 48; Schuman, Michael, et al. (1998).
“Korean experiment fuels cloning debate; more work is needed to prove a live birth is possible.” Wall Street Journal, Dec 21, p B7; WuDunn, Sheryl. (1998).
“Koreans clone human cell.” New York Times, Dec 20.
8 . Chea, Terence. (2000). “Going whole hog for cloning.” Washington Post , Aug 5.
9 . Anonymous. (2000). “Research on human cloning hushed.” Associated Press, Aug 13.