Washington -- The Food and Drug Administration is trying to reconstruct the chain of events that led to a religious sect's claim last week to have created the first human clone, a spokesman for the agency said today.
The spokesman, Bradford Stone, said there was not yet a formal investigation, but an attempt to "get the basic facts and find out what the circumstances were." Only if part of the process took place in the United States would the agency have jurisdiction over what it would probably consider an unauthorized experiment on humans, Mr. Stone said. The claim that a seven-pound baby named Eve, supposedly born last Thursday at an undisclosed location, was a clone of her 31-year-old American mother was put forward by the Raëlian religious sect and Clonaid, a Bahamas-based company it founded to conduct human cloning.
The Raëlians believe that a race of alien scientists cloned themselves to create humans and that these superior aliens will return to earth only when the entire human population learns of their existence. Generating publicity is therefore part of the group's religious mission, experts on the sect say, and Friday's press conference at a Holiday Inn in Hollywood, Fla., received worldwide attention.
Brigitte Boisselier, a chemist who is chief executive of Clonaid and a Raëlian bishop, said at the news conference that the group would provide the results of independent DNA testing to prove its claim within nine days. Some experts on genetics and cloning have expressed skepticism, while others have said that the necessary technical knowledge is widely available and within the expertise of many fertility clinics.
Dr. Boisselier said Friday that four other women are pregnant with clones created by Clonaid. The process used DNA from skin cells, she said.
Two other fertility doctors, one in Italy and one in the United States, say they have patients who are pregnant with clones.
The Italian, Dr. Severino Antinori, gained prominence in 1993 for helping a 62-year-old woman become pregnant through artificial insemination. The American, Dr. Panos Zavos, who testified before a House committee last year that reproductive cloning was a "magnificent technology" that would help infertile couples "complete their biological life cycle," has said his overseas experiments had resulted in pregnancies that would soon produce clones.
Cloning for human reproductive purposes is illegal in two dozen countries.
But a ban that passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support last year failed in the Senate, mired in a debate over whether to also ban therapeutic cloning for research purposes, as the House version did. Senator Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican and majority leader, favors a broad ban.
Mr. Stone, the Food and Drug Administration spokesman, said that last year the agency learned of and inspected a Clonaid laboratory in Nitro, W.Va.
He said the company signed a formal agreement with the agency not to engage in human cloning experiments in the United States. Mr. Stone said it was too early to speculate about possible penalties for violating that agreement, but that the F.D.A. was authorized to seek civil and criminal penalties depending on the circumstances.
An article in today's London Telegraph said the laboratory in Nitro, contained in a classroom in a former high school, had been financed by a couple whose baby had died at 10 months and who were trying to clone him from frozen cells. While the couple's research led them to the Raëlians, they were not members of the sect and eventually became disillusioned and withdrew their support, the article said.
Dr. Boisselier of Clonaid said Friday that the company planned to produce 20 more clones in 2003 and hoped to open clinics on every continent.