18. MILESTONE BREAKTHROUGH IN ANIMAL CLONING

The first successful method to clone large numbers of animals has been devised by Steen Willadsen, a Danish scientist working for a commercial genetics firm in the United States.

Willadsen did the calf-cloning experiments for the world's largest company involved in embryo-transfer work, Granada Genetics, Inc., in Texas. Willadsen declined to communicate with the media and, shortly after his successful experiments in manipulating tiny calf embryos, moved to Canada to continue his experiments at the University of Alberta, in Calgary.

There is no technical reason that cloning, similar to that achieved by Willadsen, could not be done with humans, although no such experiments have been reported.

Joe Massey, president of Granada Genetics, refused to disclose details of Willadsen's experiments, except to say "he accomplished what he wanted to accomplish while he was here. We've had real good success. That's all I want to say right now."

Genetics scientists, aware of the experiments, said Willadsen took very early calf embryos, each made up of only eight cells, isolated the cells from each other, and grew new embryos from each of the eight cells. Then each of those eight embryos was also disassociated, yielding 64 single cells, each capable of producing a complete, healthy calf. Going farther, each of the 64 eight-cell embryos could then be disassociated, yielding 512 embryos that could grow into healthy calves. It was uncertain whether Willadsen got to this stage. Some live calves were produced, using surrogate mother cows, but it was not known outside the company how many.

While Willadsen did not originate embryo-transfer experiments, he has been a pioneer in making artificial twins and in making chimeric animals, such as the Geep, an animal made of goat and sheep tissues.

Jeremy Rifkin, who has successfully challenged federal and corporate policies on genetic engineering, charges that humanity's growing ability to manipulate the genetic code is ushering in a new age that may test to the hilt our capacity to make the right decisions with regard to ethics, medicine, the environment, and even the kind of political systems we live under. "We have to realize that the only thing comparable to gene-splicing technology is fire technology, which enabled us to burn, solder, forge, melt and heat inert materials, combine them to create things like steel, glass, cement and synthetics. With genetic engineering and gene-splicing, we can stitch, edit, recombine, and program living materials across biological boundaries, creating novel forms of life. Nature has clearly prescribed limits with what we can do. With genetic technology those limits become irrelevant."

SOURCES:

NEWSDAY (THE SACRAMENTO BBB), 11/5/86, "Milestone in animal cloning," p A22; THE ANIMALS' AGENDA, March 1987, "Why Jeremy Rifkin Is Saying 'NO' to the Age of Progress," by Dave Macauley, pp 4-5, 41.