Canadian Cult Says It Was First to Clone Embryos

Reuters/November 26, 2001

Montreal -- A U.S. company's claim to have cloned a human embryo is simply a case of "been there, done that'' for a Canadian UFO cult linked to a secretive cloning company, the movement's leader said on Monday.

Claude Vorilhon, the 54-year-old former sports writer now known as Rael who founded a religious movement based on the premise that life on earth was genetically created by visiting extra-terrestrials, said on Monday he welcomed the claim by Advanced Cell Technology Inc. that it had cloned a human embryo.

"Very happy, and a bit amused because we did that some time ago,'' Rael told Reuters.

Worcester, Massachusetts-based Advanced Cell Technology caused a uproar on Sunday when it announced it had cloned a human embryo as part of its research to perfect a technique in which embryos could be used as a source of valuable stem cells to treat diseases.

Researchers at the company said they had grown several embryos using eggs from several women and the DNA from another woman's cumulous cells, those found in the ovaries that nourish the eggs. One of the embryos survived long enough to divide into six cells.

While some experts questioned the scientific veracity of the company's claim, others observers, from U.S. President George Bush to the Vatican and women's rights groups, condemned the research.

Not so for the Quebec-based Raelians, who openly support Clonaid, a company headed by cult member Brigitte Boisselier, a 44-year-old French biochemist determined to produced the world's first cloned baby. That is why Clonaid, which purports to have established a new research laboratory in an undisclosed country, will not be making announcements on its progress in the project, Rael said.

"The first communique that Clonaid will make will be to announce the birth of the baby, but not for such a small thing,'' he said, referring to Advanced Cell Technology's announcement.

Clonaid was forced to abandon its U.S. laboratory after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned in March that it would not allow experiments on cloning humans. But Rael said the research continues at Clonaid.

"They set up a laboratory in another country where it is not prohibited and things are going forward,'' Rael said.

Clonaid already has more than 3,000 individuals seeking to clone a person, and 55 women, all "Raelians,'' who are prepared to carry the cloned embryos to term, Rael said.

"Of course, Clonaid's goal is not to make a monster or a handicapped child, which would be terrible. The first child must be perfect, let's say in a health that is recognized as perfect,'' he said.

Rael added that opponents are actually more worried that Clonaid's first cloned baby would be "beautiful, perfect and in good health.''

In an even more science-fiction twist, Clonaid eventually would like to clone fully grown individuals in a sort of ''accelerated-growth process'' where memories and personality could be "downloaded'' to the clone from the donor, Rael said.

"That is what interests us -- it is to be able to live eternally through several bodies,'' he said.

Although Clonaid and the Raelians want to produce the world's first cloned person, they also support the prospect of using cloned embryos to harvest stem cells to combat a range of diseases including cancer, he added.

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