SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

I can clone a human being’
Dr Panayiotis Zavos has produced cloned embryos of three dead people, including a 10-year-old child called Cady, who died in a car crash Steve Connor

A controversial fertility doctor claimed yesterday to have cloned 14 human embryos and transferred 11 of them into the wombs of four women who had been prepared to give birth to cloned babies.

Frontiers of fertility
The key questions

Trends

Prof Yash Pal

Prof Yash Pal

THIS UNIVERSE 
PROF YASH PAL
Is it true that we cannot fold a piece of paper more than eight times, no matter what its size?
A simple answer to this question can be provided through actual demonstration. Every time you fold a paper, the number of leaves is doubled. So, as you carry on folding, the number of pages becomes 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256.... Let us stop, because when we've folded the paper 8 times, its 256 pages thick! This is equal to the number of pages in a fairly thick book. It would be impossible to fold it once more. 

Top

 


















‘I can clone a human being’
Dr Panayiotis Zavos has produced cloned embryos of three dead people, including a 10-year-old child called Cady, who died in a car crash Steve Connor

A controversial fertility doctor claimed yesterday to have cloned 14 human embryos and transferred 11 of them into the wombs of four women who had been prepared to give birth to cloned babies.

The cloning was recorded by an independent documentary film-maker who has testified to The Independent that the cloning had taken place and that the women were genuinely hoping to become pregnant with the first cloned embryos specifically created for the purposes of human reproduction.

Panayiotis Zavos has broken the ultimate taboo of transferring cloned embryos into the human womb, a procedure that is a criminal offence in Britain and illegal in many other countries. He carried out the work at a secret laboratory, probably located in the Middle East where there is no cloning ban. Dr Zavos, a naturalised American, also has fertility clinics in Kentucky and Cyprus, where he was born. His patients – three married couples and a single woman – came from Britain, the United States and an unspecified country in the Middle East.

None of the embryo transfers led to a viable pregnancy but Dr Zavos said yesterday that this was just the “first chapter” in his ongoing and serious attempts at producing a baby cloned from the skin cells of its “parent”.

“There is absolutely no doubt about it, and I may not be the one that does it, but the cloned child is coming. There is absolutely no way that it will not happen,” Dr Zavos said in an interview yesterday with The Independent.

“If we intensify our efforts we can have a cloned baby within a year or two, but I don’t know whether we can intensify our efforts to that extent. We’re not really under pressure to deliver a cloned baby to this world. What we are under pressure to do is to deliver a cloned baby that is a healthy one,” he said.

His claims are certain to be denounced by mainstream fertility scientists who in 2004 tried to gag Dr Zavos by imploring the British media not to give him the oxygen of publicity without him providing evidence to back up his statements. Despite a lower profile over the past five years, scores of couples have now approached Dr Zavos hoping that he will help them to overcome their infertility by using the same cloning technique that was used to create Dolly the sheep in 1996.

“I get enquiries every day. To date we have had over 100 enquiries and every enquiry is serious. The criteria is that they have to consider human reproductive cloning as the only option available to them after they have exhausted everything else,” Dr Zavos said.

“We are not interested in cloning the Michael Jordans and the Michael Jacksons of this world. The rich and the famous don’t participate in this.” It took 277 attempts to create Dolly but since then the cloning procedure in animals has been refined and it has now become more efficient, although most experts in the field believe that it is still too dangerous to be allowed as a form of human fertility treatment. Dr Zavos dismissed these fears saying that many of the problems related to animal cloning – such as congenital defects and oversized offspring – have been minimised.

“In the future, when we get serious about executing things correctly, this thing will be very easy to do,” he said. “If we find out that this technique does not work, I don’t intend to step on dead bodies to achieve something because I don’t have that kind of ambition. My ambition is to help people.”

Dr Zavos also revealed that he has produced cloned embryos of three dead people, including a 10-year-old child called Cady, who died in a car crash. He did so after being asked by grieving relatives if he could create biological clones of their loved ones.

Dr Zavos fused cells taken from these corpses not with human eggs but with eggs taken from cows that had their own genetic material removed. He did this to create a human-animal hybrid “model” that would allow him to study the cloning procedure.

Dr Zavos emphasised that it was never his intention to transfer any of these hybrid embryos into the wombs of women, despite Cady’s mother saying she would sanction this if there was any hope of her child’s clone being born.

“I would not transfer those embryos. We never did this in order to transfer those embryos,” Dr Zavos said. “The hybrid model is the thing that saved us. It’s a model for us to learn. First you develop a model and then you go on to the target. We did not want to experiment on human embryos, which is why we developed the hybrid model.”

Dr Zavos is collaborating with Karl Illmensee, who has a long track record in cloning experiments dating back to pioneering studies in the early 1980s. They are about to recruit 10 younger couples in need of fertility treatment for the next chapter in his attempts at producing cloned babies.

“I think we know why we did not have a pregnancy,” said Dr Zavos. “I think that the circumstances were not as ideal as we’d like them to be. We’ve done the four couples so far under the kind of limitations that we were working under.

“We think we know why those four transfers didn’t take. I think with better subjects – and there are hundreds of people out there who want to do this – if we choose 10 couples, I think we will get some to carry a pregnancy.”

All the cloning attempts, which date back to 2003, were filmed by Peter Williams, a distinguished documentary maker, for the Discovery Channel.

Williams said that he was present at the secret laboratory when the cloning was carried out by Dr Illmensee. “There’s never been any question of concealment, because we’d have known about it,” Williams said.

—By arrangement with The Independent

Top

Frontiers of fertility
The key questions

Q. What does he claim to have done?

A. Panayiotis Zavos says he has created 14 human embryos and transferred 11 of them into the wombs of four women. Some of these embryos only developed to the four-cell stage before being transferred, but some developed to the 32-cell stage, called a morula. He also claims to have created human-bovine hybrid clones by transferring the cells of dead people into the empty eggs of cows. However, these hybrid embryos were used for research purposes and were not transferred to the womb.

Q. How does this compare to scientists' previous achievements?

A. Other scientists have created human-cloned embryos but not for the purposes of transferring them to wombs in order for women to give birth to babies. Those researchers created cloned human embryos in the test tube to extract stem cells for research. Dr Zavos has gone further (and broken a taboo) by creating embryos specifically for human reproduction, and he has attempted to create a viable pregnancy by transferring the cloned embryos into women.

Q. Hasn't he made similar claims before?

A. In 2004, Dr Zavos claimed to have transferred a cloned human embryo into a woman's womb but did not produce hard evidence. He has now produced more cloned human embryos, some at an advanced stage, and transferred them into the wombs of three more women. An independent documentary maker vouches for him.

Q. Why is this such a controversial thing to do?

A. Studies on animal cloning have shown time and time again that it is unsafe. The cloned animals suffer a higher-than-normal risk of severe developmental problems and the pregnancies often end in miscarriage. Mainstream scientists believe cloning is too dangerous to be used on humans.

Q. How likely is it that he will succeed?

A. He is determined to succeed and has a long line of people eager to sign up to his cloning programme, at a cost of between $45,000 and $75,000. Cloning attempts in other species, including primates, suggest there is no insuperable barrier to cloning humans.

Top

Trends

South Korea moves for first stem cell study in 3 years

SEOUL: South Korea has moved to allow human stem cell research for the first time since about three years ago when its pre-eminent researcher was accused of fraud for his work in the subject, officials said Wednesday. South Korea had once been considered a global leader in human embryonic stem cell research until review boards said the team lead by scientist Hwang Woo-suk had manipulated key data in its studies on cloning stem cells, sparking a fraud case that shook the global scientific community.
A SkyTrough parabolic-shaped solar collector reflects the sunrise in Arvada, Colorado, April 29, 2009. The SkyTrough solar collector harnesses solar radiation to produce steam for electricity generation and industrial applications.
A SkyTrough parabolic-shaped solar collector reflects the sunrise in Arvada, Colorado, April 29, 2009. The SkyTrough solar collector harnesses solar radiation to produce steam for electricity generation and industrial applications. —Reuters photo

Roman glass dish found

LONDON: Archaeologists have unearthed a Roman glass bowl, thought to be a unique find in the Western Roman Empire, at an ancient cemetery beyond the walls of the old city of London. The “millefiori” dish (a thousand flowers), believed to date from around the 2nd to 3rd century A.D., is a mosaic of hundreds of indented blue petals with white bordering.

Distant object snapped

WASHINGTON: Astronomers tracking a mysterious blast of energy called a gamma ray burst said on Tuesday they had snapped a photograph of the most distant object in the universe—a smudge 13 billion light-years away. Hawaii’s Gemini Observatory caught the image earlier this month after a satellite first detected the burst.
The image shows an Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) image from April 27, 2009 superimposed on an image from April 24, 2009. The margins of the collapsed ice bridge that formerly connected Charcot and Latady Islands are outlined in white
The image shows an Envisat Advanced Synthetic Aperture Radar (ASAR) image from April 27, 2009 superimposed on an image from April 24, 2009. The margins of the collapsed ice bridge that formerly connected Charcot and Latady Islands are outlined in white. The demise of the ice bridge led to a destabilisation of the northern ice front of the Wilkins Ice Shelf, where the first icebergs calved off on 20 April 2009. About 700 sq km (270.3 sq mile) of ice has broken off the Wilkins in April 2009 and shattered into a mass of icebergs.— Reuters photo

DNA to track mosquitoes

OSLO: A novel genetic technology will be used in Africa to track mosquitoes that can spread a disease disfiguring millions of people with often grotesque swellings, scientists said Wednesday. “DNA barcoding”—a technique that quickly obtains a unique genetic code—would be used to help identify mosquitoes that spread Elephantiasis, a disease formally known as lymphatic filariasis (LF).

Pentagon satellite analysis

WASHINGTON: The U.S. military may reach its goal of doing collision analysis on 800 maneuverable satellites before October, and is examining the possibility of tracking 500 more satellites that cannot be maneuvered, a top Air Force general said on Tuesday. Lieutenant General Larry James, who heads U.S. Strategic Command’s Joint Functional Component Command for Space, said the Air Force was working to respond to an increasingly complex and congested space environment, but many challenges remained.

First common autism gene

WASHINGTON: Researchers have found the first common genetic link to autism and said on Tuesday it could potentially account for 15 percent of the disease’s cases. Three studies, two in the journal Nature and one in Molecular Psychiatry, suggest changes in brain connections could underlie some cases.

New York City-sized ice collapses off Antarctica

TROMSOE, Norway: An area of an Antarctic ice shelf almost the size of New York City has broken into icebergs this month after the collapse of an ice bridge widely blamed on global warming, a scientist said Tuesday. “The northern ice front of the Wilkins Ice Shelf has become unstable and the first icebergs have been released,” Angelika Humbert, glaciologist at the University of Muenster in Germany, said of European Space Agency satellite images of the shelf.

Top

THIS UNIVERSE 
PROF YASH PAL

Is it true that we cannot fold a piece of paper more than eight times, no matter what its size?

A simple answer to this question can be provided through actual demonstration. Every time you fold a paper, the number of leaves is doubled. So, as you carry on folding, the number of pages becomes 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256.... Let us stop, because when we've folded the paper 8 times, its 256 pages thick! This is equal to the number of pages in a fairly thick book. It would be impossible to fold it once more. The statement therefore stands proved; you cannot fold a paper more than 8 times. But the question is, why not? I have given this some thought. When you fold a thick stack of paper, the outermost sheet needs to cover a longer stretch than every other sheet. If the stack is a result of successive folding, we have a situation where part of the original paper is being made to stretch longer than the rest. Paper may be delicate in many ways, but it does not stretch or break easily. Conduct an experiment along with a friend. Take a piece of paper from your notebook. Roll the two opposite edges squarely onto two pencils. Hold on to one of the pencils and let your friend take the pencil at the opposite end. If the paper is dry and the two of you pull exactly opposite to each other, chances are that you will not succeed in stretching or breaking it. You can tear paper easily, but to stretch or break it requires a great deal of effort.

Dr. Mani Bhaumik in his book, The Cosmic Detective, says that our sun is roughly a million times bigger than the sphere of the earth. I, however, heard from you on a TV programme that the sun is 400 times the size of our moon. Could you kindly remove this confusion?

Dr. Bhaumik and I are both correct. You are confusing diameters and volumes. For example when I said that the size of the sun is 400 times of the moon I was referring to the diameters of the discs of the sun and the moon. The volume goes as the cube of the diameter. Therefore in terms of volumes my statement implied that the sun’s volume is 400 cube (64 million) times larger than that of the moon. We recently sent a spacecraft, the Chandrayana to the moon and every one came to know that the distance to the moon is 384,400 kilometres. We also know that the distance to the sun is about 150 million kilometre. You will see that the ratio of these two distances is about 400.

It might be useful if I also give here the radii of the sun, the earth and the moon, which I have found by searching the internet. They are 696,000 km, 6,378 km, and 1,738 km respectively. If you take the cubes of these numbers you will find that the ration of volumes of the sun and the earth is more than a million, as Dr. Bhaumik says. 

Top


HOME PAGE