The clone would be uglier, sicker and dimmer'
By Francesca Colombo
Human cloning would serve no purpose; all it would do is create imperfect beings, Carlos Alberto Redi, the Italian scientist who created the first mouse clone, says in an interview with Tierramérica.
PAVIA, Italy, (Tierramérica).- Carlo Alberto Redi was part of the team that in 1998 created Cumulina, the first mouse clone in history. It took at least 84 tries and the female mouse lived only 18 months, but the Italian scientist is a fervent supporter of using this genetic "duplication" method, especially for its potential applications in medicine.
But animals are one thing, humans are quite another. "Human cloning would serve no purpose. The clone would be uglier, sicker and dimmer" than the original, he says.
Director of the animal biology department at Italy's prestigious University of Pavia, Redi, 54, has published more than 120 scientific papers and writes for some of the world's leading scientific journals.
He and colleague Rita Levi, 1986 Nobel laureate in Medicine, founded on May 8 the European Institute of Bioregeneration, with the mission of creating "mother cells", or stem cells, without having to harm embryos.
Redi spoke with Tierramérica at his laboratory at the University of Pavia.
TIERRAMERICA - Is it possible to clone humans?
REDI - The scientific community states clearly and definitively that it is not possible to clone humans. Today we are capable of producing clones for zootechnical application, but not in the human sphere. To produce a clone requires at least 25 cells from the female. The technique is rather rudimentary and invasive, and requires many attempts. The sheep Dolly, the first cloned mammal, was created after 486 tries. And Cumulina, the first mouse clone, after 84. It would be dangerous and could even lead to questionable business dealings. The poorest and most vulnerable women might risk their own health to sell their ova to those who seek to clone a human being.
- What are some of the impediments standing in the way of this technology?
- The health of the clone. Through cloning, beings are born that have been reproduced asexually, without sperm penetrating the ova and without the filter of natural selection that eliminates the unhealthy. In normal human reproduction, for example, of every 100 conceptions, only 10 grow into embryos. We can summarize the complexity of biological theory in one phrase: the clone would be uglier, sicker and dimmer. Uglier due to problems related to poor formation of the muscular system, sicker due to the harm to the immune system, and less intelligent as a result of alterations to the nervous system.
- The human genome has been completed. Does this open new channels for cloning?
- Knowledge of the sequence of the genome gives us more arguments to say no to human cloning. We still do not know why a large portion of the animal clones die during the peri-natal period from the dilated organ syndrome: their lungs, heart and liver are too big. If we applied the same technique to humans we would see many children die in the same circumstances. Nobody knows how to correct these defects, even if they claim they do.
- The Raelian sect claimed in late 2002 that Eva, the first human clone, was born. Was that all a hoax?
- If they say that a clone was born, they should have proved it. The Raelians have never proved anything. In the scientific world, since the era of Galileo, proof has been published, it is judged by reviewers and made available to all. The group that was to compare the DNA of the girl and that of the mother was dismantled.
- Italian gynecologist Severino Antinori had 700 couples from around the world volunteer for a cloning experiment. What do you think of your scientific colleague's endeavor?
- He is a good gynecologist. He has proven that with the birth of babies to older women, between 60 to 63 years old. Without commenting on whether this is ethical or not, it shows an undeniable capacity in the field of assisted reproduction. But Antinori has never published any scientific data about cloning.
- If animal cloning has proved disastrous -- Dolly the sheep died on Feb. 14 with several pathologies resulting from this reproductive technique -- is it a valid endeavor to continue cloning?
- There is no doubt that cloning produces imperfect individuals, and we don't know why. But that does not mean they cannot survive. Dolly lived six years and Cumulina lived 18 months. These experiments are valid for animal science. If I invest 10 million dollars in an animal that can produce a medicine that saves human lives, it would be good to reproduce it by cloning rather than spend that money and start over again.
- You also favor work with mother cells, or stem cells. There is a tendency to confuse them with cloning. What is the difference?
- The stem cells are master cells that can transform into other types of cells -- brain, heart or bone cells, for example. They are very useful. A doctor could replace cells that are lost due to accident, illness or aging. The problem is that human embryos are the principal source of these cells. And we cannot take them from that source. The Catholic world does not accept it. (The embryo dies in the cell-removal process) There are other sources, such as the umbilical cord, bone marrow, but they are very few and they do not multiply and require incredibly complicated operations to obtain.
- Will you look for alternative ways through the institute you just created? Would you pass by the ethical implications?
- We have asked the government to finance our research to obtain stem cells without taking them from embryos or adults, and without ethical problems. We plan to develop an artificial cytoplasm. Thanks to cloning we know that the female ovum is like a tiny molecular biology laboratory. It is home to a unique and magic thing. One part of the cell is called cytoplasm. If we delve into it, we will discover what is special about it. In other words, we will find the gold of the future.
* Francesca Colombo is a Tierramérica contributor.