Washington -- Scientists in the United States claim they are expecting the birth of a cloned baby by the end of the year - the first child to be born using the controversial practice.
Scientist Brigitte Boisselier said the baby is a girl who will be born to American parents in December, possibly by Christmas. Dr. Boisselier, who belongs to a sect of the Raelian movement that believes in UFOs, said embryos were implanted in 10 women, five of whom are still maintaining their pregnancies. In addition to the American woman, two are Asian, one is European and a fifth woman is also in the US.
If the claims of the scientists are true, there is now effectively a race between two different medical teams to produce the world's first cloned child.
Italian gynaecologist Severino Antinori said last week that one of his patients is expected to give birth to a cloned baby in January.
Dr. Antinori said the mother, who is in the 33rd week of pregnancy, and the 2.7kg male foetus were doing well.
Dr. Boisselier directs the Clonaid laboratory which belongs to the Raelian movement. She said her organisation will let independent experts confirm that the mother and child have identical genes to prove the baby was cloned.
Doctors, ethicists and the church have criticised Dr. Antinori, who has received significant media attention.
Markus Montag, the chairman of a German biological reproduction institute, is sceptical of the practice.
He said the belief in the scientific community is that Dr. Antinori does not possess the skills to succeed in cloning a child.
The Raelians, who claim 55,000 followers worldwide, believe life on earth was established by extra-terrestrials who arrived in flying saucers 25,000 years ago, and that humans themselves were created by cloning. The movement's founder, Rael -- the former French journalist Claude Vorilhon -- lives in Quebec. He describes himself as a prophet and claims that cloning will enable humanity to attain eternal life.
The sect believes that aliens created humans by altering genes and placing them on earth. That notion has prompted the group to become the first to create a cloned baby.