Steve Connor, Science Editor
scientist who cloned Dolly the sheep has applied for a government licence
to work with human eggs in an experiment that prepares the way for human
Ian Wilmut's application to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) covers a
technique in which an unfertilised egg is stimulated
in the laboratory to develop into an early embryo.
procedure is called parthenogenesis, which literally means "virgin birth",
and results in the creation of cloned embryos that develop without the
need for sperm to fertilise an egg.
Wilmut's laboratory, at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, will not
allow the "parthenogenically activated" human eggs to be implanted into
womb, which is illegal in Britain.
institute's application to the HFEA says the research is intended to grow
the human embryos in a test tube to a few days old when scientists can extract
embryonic stem cells for further study. Harry Griffin, acting director
of the Roslin Institute, said: "We can confirm that we have made
to the HFEA for a licence under the Act but we're not prepared to
comment on the details of an ongoing process."
Lanza, from Advanced Cell Technology, based in Massachussetts, said that
by carrying out parthenogenic activation of human eggs, Professor Wilmut
would gather important insights that were necessary for the sort
that led to Dolly, in which genetic material was transferred from
cell into an "empty", unfertilised egg.
the field of cloning, before you proceed with nuclear transfer of any species,
you need to work out the activation protocol," Dr Lanza said.
that is learning how to fool the egg into thinking it is fertilised
because obviously there will be no sperm."
human embryos by parthenogenesis may circumvent many of the ethical concerns
of generating embryos by the Dolly technique. In America, for instance,
the embryos created by parthenogenesis are not even considered
embryos by some scientists, who refer to them as "parthenotes". There is
the question of whether the parthenogenically activated eggs are considered
embryos under the 1990 Act, which defines an embryo as an egg
by a sperm.