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Human cloning

On February 23, 1997, the world was introduced to Dolly, a six-month-old lamb cloned by scientists at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh from a single cell from the breast tissue of a six-year-old sheep. Dolly had been produced by a process known as cell nuclear replacement. The nucleus from the donor cell, with the DNA it contains, is placed together with the cytoplasm from an unfertilised egg and an electrical current is used to start the growing process. No sperm is used. The resulting embryo is placed within the womb of a surrogate mother and brought to birth. Virtually the only DNA it contains is that of the cell donor. It is in fact the cell donor's later-born identical twin.

Scientists have since cloned rats, mice, rabbits, goats, pigs, cows, a cat, a deer, a mule and a horse. It has sometimes taken hundreds of attempts to clone an animal successfully. Animal cloning often goes wrong, and there is no reason to suppose the same would not happen if attempts were made to bring a cloned human to birth.

In 2001, however, the UK Government became the first Government in the West to legalise cloning of human embryos for research. Embryos so produced were to be destroyed within 14 days.

Scientists, who found a shortage of human eggs, then wanted to mix human DNA with more readily available animal eggs, using the cloning process to give them hybrid embryos from which to obtain stem cells for research purposes. This involved more ethical issues. In 2008, however, Parliament voted to allow this to happen.

For further details, click on Factsheets.