Biologists Adopt Cloning Moratorium

Hoping to ease public fears about human cloning and ward off overreaching legislation, the country's largest coalition of biologists announced yesterday that it had adopted a voluntary moratorium on creating a baby from the somatic cells of an adult. The moratorium, the first among U.S. scientific societies, does not preclude research on techniques that would be required for human cloning, however.

President Clinton barred federally funded researchers from cloning a person last March after Scottish researchers reported they had cloned the lamb "Dolly" from an adult sheep's DNA. Then in June, the National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) issued a report (ScienceNOW, 9 June) that called on professional societies to "comply voluntarily" with the federal ban.

In response to the NBAC's plea, the Federation of American Scientific Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), a group of 14 scientific societies representing more than 52,000 biologists, adopted their 5-year voluntary moratorium at a board meeting earlier this month. The societies defined human cloning as "the duplication of an existing or previously existing human being by transferring the nucleus of a differentiated, somatic cell into an enucleated human oocyte, and implanting the resulting product for intrauterine gestation and subsequent birth."

This definition is more specific than many others being considered in Congress, and unlike some of those proposals, it would not restrict cloning research on embryos or human DNA and cells. The society hopes to "ensure that imprecise or misused technical language is not included" in a new law, says FASEB president Ralph Yount, a biochemist at Washington State University in Pullman. "We're concerned that legislation not be too restrictive and hinder breakthroughs in other areas of human disease," he adds.