Newcastle hybrids – Unpalatable April foolishness

Claims that hybrid embryos have been created using eggs from cows ovaries collected from the local abattoir were released today in a flurry of headline grabbing on the part of Newcastle University.

According to the BBC coverage Dr Lyle Armstrong created animal-human embryos using cow eggs and adult skin cells, which lived for three days. The statement from the University is much more circumspect and possibly more accurate. It talks of using an existing embryonic stem cell line (hope they got permission!), does not specify how many attempts were made, or even how many hybrids were created. The BBC seemed to know more than the scientists themselves.

It was quite remarkable that Armstrong himself did not make any direct comments to the media, and one wonders if he is unhappy with the leak. Is this a re-run of the in-house politics that we noted during the human cloning claims from Newcastle in 2005. Will Armstrong be the next to do a Stojkovic?

Just to remind you of what happened then – a story was publicised that human clones had been created, was greeted with a massive media circus, but the lead scientist, Dr Miodrad Stojkovic was apparently not happy with the premature disclosure of his work and accused his partner of breaching good scientific practice. Stojkovic subsequently quit Newcastle, taking with him his significant expertise.

Once upon a time scientists worked hard for years, checking and cross-checking their research, replicating, verifying, writing up, holding their breath as their work was peer reviewed and hoping for eventual publication. After the fraud scandals which followed the publication of cloning claims from the South Korean scientist, Prof Hwang Woo-Suk, the major scientific journals promised more robust assessment of scientific claims. Prof Armstrong will be well aware of all of this.

The story from Newcastle relies exclusively on preliminary data which has not been verified, basically claiming that embryos were created using cows’ eggs and human embryonic stem cells. No further information as to the genetic analysis of the embryos, numbers involved, or anything vaguely precise has been revealed. The press release from the University is the usual dose of unsubstantiated hype and low on facts.

One suspects the motivation behind this revelation is more political that scientific. This nebulous research has been made public at a time when opposition to animal-human cloning gains momentum by the day, with a recent opinion poll commissioned by the Christian Institute in Newcastle showing over 60% of the public against this research. Comments from the Scottish Cardinal, Keith O’Brien, have contributed significantly to this opposition.

Having read the statement from Newcastle one could be forgiven for checking the date. It broke on April 1st.

In CORE’s opinion, however, these ridiculous and premature hybrid claims are simply the fruit of the growing desperation of the UK pro-cloning lobby. The public does not like interspecies embryos at all, and the mainstream scientific world has moved away from animal-human cloning anyway. So should Newcastle as quickly as possible.

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