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Two groups now promise cloned babies will be born within weeks

Updated:
NEW YORK (AP) _ The race to produce the first birth of a human clone is nearing the finish line _ if you believe the public pronouncements.

Last month, it was an Italian fertility doctor, Dr. Severino Antinori, who promised a cloned baby boy in January.

On Thursday, it was a scientist who belongs to a group that believes life on earth was created by extraterrestrials. Brigitte Boisselier, head of a company called Clonaid, said a cloned baby girl is expected to be born this month.

And she says she'll offer proof the baby is a clone of the woman carrying it to term.

Many scientists say they don't put much stock in either cloning effort. They discount Boisselier chiefly because she does not specialize in reproductive medicine, but is a chemist by training.

Clonaid, which declines to say where its facilities are, was founded in the Bahamas in 1997 by the head of a group called the Raelians. They contend the truth about the origin of life on earth was revealed to their founder, Rael, by a visitor from another planet. Boisselier, a Raelian bishop, said Clonaid retains ``philosophical'' but not economic links to the group.

In a telephone interview, Boisselier said the cloned baby will be delivered by Caesarean section from an American woman in her 30s. She declined to say where or when the birth will take place, but ruled out Christmas Day. She also said four more clone births are due by the end of February.

The cloning was performed by fusing a cell from the woman with one of her eggs, from which the nucleus had been removed, Boisselier said.

Many scientists oppose cloning to produce humans, saying it's too risky because of abnormalities seen in cloned animals. Boisselier answers that long experience with human test-tube fertilization allows for safer cloning in people than animals.

To prove that the baby due this month is a clone, Boisselier said, a DNA expert chosen by a documentary maker will take DNA samples from the baby and the mother a few days after the birth and test them for a match. She declined to name the production company recording the project.

In recent interviews, cloning experts said independent DNA testing would be required to convince them a newborn is indeed a clone.

``I think the world would demand it,'' said Mark Westhusin of Texas A&M University, who made headlines last February with the first cloning of a cat. ``I would certainly want someone else to run that DNA for me.''

Standard DNA profiling, used for forensic tasks like identifying bodies or matching semen to a rape suspect, would be appropriate, the experts said. Such tests can be done in about a week.

But Randall Prather, a cloning expert with the University of Missouri, noted that under the traditional scientific standards, proving that a baby is a clone would involve another step that opponents of human cloning would find unpalatable.

``The proof in science is replication, I hate to say,'' Prather said. ``So somebody else is going to have to repeat it.''
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