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Bio Saga

Friday, April 4, 2008

British researchers create human-animal hybrid embryo amid political row

For the first time in Britain, researchers at Newcastle University said Tuesday they had created human-animal hybrid embryos, amid a political row over a disputed embryo research bill in parliament.

According to the northern English university, the research, which was first presented at a lecture in Tel Aviv on March 25, has yet to be published or verified, with a spokesman for the university telling AFP that the institution "wouldn't claim it to be final at all."

The revelation comes with British MPs engaged in a fierce battle over the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which allows the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos for medical research.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's governing Labour Party conceded in March that its party lawmakers with moral or ethical objections would be allowed to vote against parts of the proposed legislation when it comes before parliament this year.

The embryos were created by injecting DNA taken from human skin cells into eggs derived from cow ovaries with almost all their genetic material stripped away, and lasted for three days in a laboratory.

The Newcastle University spokesman said that the research would likely be published in "months rather than weeks".

At present, researchers wanting to create such embryos have to apply for a license from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which currently regulates the practice in Britain, and hybrid embryos have to be destroyed after 14 days.

The government says that the scientific advantages of allowing the creation of hybrid embryos for research purposes could help millions of people to recover from illness or disease.

Religious leaders, however, have argued against the bill, with the leader of Catholics in Scotland, Cardinal Keith O'Brien, using his Easter Sunday sermon to brand the bill a "monstrous attack on human rights, human dignity and human life" which will allow experiments of "Frankenstein proportion".

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