Several groups have loudly declared their intentions in the past couple of years to attempt human cloning, but the announcement by Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., that it had succeeded (as reported in Scientific American and elsewhere) still seemed to catch many people off guard. Some of that surprise had less to do with the deed itself than with controversies over whether ACT had accomplished all that it claimed and how the news was spread [see page 18]. In retrospect, however, the idea that human cloning would emerge less contentiously looks naive.
The first, most serious reservations are the scientific ones. ACT acknowledged that its work fell far short of producing a human embryo with stem cells of therapeutic interest and settled instead for a demonstration that human cells can be cloned. Other scientists are skeptical of even that claim, if not openly dismissive of it. Carrying an embryo to only the six-cell stage is no proof of cloning at all, they say, because a few early rounds of cell division can occur in a genetically inert egg cell. ACT might better have waited to publish until more convincing results were in hand. Time will tell whether or not ACT's claim stands up.
This article was originally published with the title A Ready-Made Controversy.