Concerning Cuban Cloning.

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at
Wed May 31 15:27:27 MDT 2000

GRANMA - May 30, 2000


The history of dynamite
must not  be repeated

. Experts confirm that Cuba is close
to producing its first cloned sheep

. The FAO believes the island is the most
advanced country in Latin America and
the Caribbean in the field of embryo
transplant and animal cloning and
sponsors the region's students in
study courses with Cuban specialists

. Opinions of an expert from the French
cloning team, the most advanced at an
international level after the British.

(Granma International staff writer)

COLLECTING dead cow's ovaries from a
slaughterhouse may seem like something
from a Frankenstein novel, but this work is
part of specialist Milagros Cárdenas' daily
routine at the In Vitro Fertilization and Cloning
Laboratory which is part of the Havana-based
Center for Animal Improvement Research (CIMA).

A new life can emerge after death, but an animal
doesn't have to be dead in order for a living
genetic replica to be created. The ability to
produce an "exact twin" of any animal or plant is
one of the scientific accomplishments of the 20th
century. It was achieved by cloning technicians,
making use of the knowledge accumulated over
many years about the mysteries of heredity.

Dolly, the famous cloned sheep produced in 1997 by
Briton Ian Wilmut after 267 unsuccessful attempts,
opened the way for the science of cloning. It
became possible to develop a new animal from
the somatic or static cells contained in skin or
muscle tissue and which normally don't have the
ability to reproduce themselves to form an embryo.

Even though Dolly put the British at the forefront
of world advances in animal cloning, subsequent
work by scientists in France, the United States,
Germany, Japan, New Zealand and Australia
produced a diverse range of animals cloned
from somatic cells.

"The cloning of animals for its own sake is not
the purpose of this science. By mastering the
technique, we can modify the hereditary process
and thus bring benefits to human nutrition and
health. The most vital step in the transgenetic
process is to obtain individuals with the best
characteristics from any given group of plants and
animals," explained Dr. José Morales, head of

"By using these techniques, it's possible to
create cows or goats whose milk contains the
enzyme that is deficient in children who normally
have intolerance to dairy products. In fact, we
know that goats with these characteristics have
already been produced for children that suffer
from this problem," continued Dr. Morales.

"There is potential benefit for all humankind, in
that we can use an animal organ in a transplant
operation and be sure that it will be compatible
with the body of its recipient. There would be no
need to use donated human organs any longer,"
he said.

CIMA forms part of the Cuban scientific team that
is working on animal cloning and which is headed
by Dr. Fidel Ovidio Castro, a specialist at the
Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology Center,
situated to the east of Havana.


"To achieve cloning by way of theoretical computer
studies of genetics may seem easy, but in practice
it's very difficult," says Yván Heyman, second in
command of the French Institute of Biology and
Biotechnology. He made his comments during the
International Conference on Animal Improvement
Research, held recently in Havana to celebrate
CIMA's 30th anniversary.

Attending the conference along with Heyman were
French specialists Xavier Vignon and Daniel Le
Bourhies, who together make up the world's second
most advanced team, after the British.

Heyman also said that cloning and transgenesis
make possible recombinant proteins which have
human pharmacological uses. He showed photos of
cattle cloned from the ear tissue of the various
bovines breeds such as the Holstein.

The first cloned calf produced by the French team
was named Lucifer, said Heyman, who went on to
explain that for every 1000 cloned embryos
produced, only one or two transgenetic animals
result. The birth of cloned bovine embryos, the
step prior to transgenesis, currently enjoys a
success rate of only around 10%, due to
miscarriages by the surrogate cow.
The reasons for this are still under


Cuba has yet to complete the successful birth of a
cloned sheep or cow, but the way is being prepared
for this to happen soon.

"We've already reached the very important stage of
producing embryos from bovine somatic cells, which
is something that puts us very close to achieving
a live birth. The team calculate that during the
coming year we will obtain our first cloned
cattle," announced Dr. Morales.

So far, miscarriages have occurred in all cows
carrying cloned embryos developed by CIMA. With
both embryos originating from in vitro technology
(test-tube calves) as well as with those coming
from cloning, they need the wombs of female
surrogates so that the embryo will continue its
development up until birth.

Biologist Neysi Alvarez from CIMA's in vitro
fertilization and cloning laboratory, says that
the synchronization between the days a cloned
embryo has spent in a test tube and the time
elapsed after a cow or heifer shows symptoms of
coming into heat demands a precision that until
now has not been achieved. That is the most
difficult thing of all.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
believes that Cuba leads the field in the tech-
nique of bovine embryo transplant as far as
Latin America and the Caribbean is concerned.
Dr. Morales said that the organization is now
financing scholarship study courses for the
region's students to train at CIMA.

He went on to note that a scientific project was
under way in Cuba to preserve cells from the
famous cow Ubre Blanca, which produced more
than 100 liters of milk each day. The intention is
try to produce a clone in the future. The cloning
team consists of CIMA, the National Center of
Animal and Plant Health and the Institute of
Animal Science.


Technician Milagros Cárdenas' work of collecting
ovaries in slaughterhouses is necessary in order
to extract the eggs, in which the female sexual
cells are located. These will be converted into
the receptors for the new genetic information
which comes from the animal selected for cloning.

"The receptors are created by extracting the
nucleus from these carrier cells, so that the
genetic information is erased and then the
required information is inserted," biologist
Marilay Ruiz told Granma International
during our visit to CIMA.

The most difficult part is the transfer of the
genetic information of the selected animal, said
Neysi Alvarez. When the cloning is carried out
using embryonic cells, the process is quicker
because they have the capability to reproduce
themselves. But the most complex procedure is
when they originate from muscle or skin tissue
which have to be placed in special culture media
order to begin reproducing. That's a process that
requires a lot of care and observation.

Dolly the sheep, for example, was created by
splitting cells from the epithelium of the mammary
gland of the replicated animal. When an embryo
is reconstructed, that is when the transfer of
genetic information to the carrier cell is
complete, its age, for example seven days,
must coincide exactly with the time for which the
surrogate cow has shown symptoms of being in
heat," explained biologist Ofelia Morales.


During his visit to Havana last year, Jacques
Diouf, secretary-general of the FAO, gave an
interview to this reporter. His opinion was that
the use of cloning and transgenetic techniques are
vital in order to feed the world's population, but
that it was important that they are not used in a
way which violates international ethical

Meanwhile, in Cuba, scientists are working to
advance the cloning of animals and plants with the
objective of improving food production. There have
already been successes in the production of
transgenetic freshwater fish, such as tilapia, and
some vegetables, including the sweet potato.

Internationally, there has been outright rejection
of the concept of genetically modified foods by
some ecology groups, fearful that they could be
dangerous to humans.

According an article printed in the London based
Daily Telegraph and reproduced by Prensa Latina,
British experts have asked their government for
permission to clone human embryos for medical
purposes. This is something that could reopen the
debate over the ethics of scientific

British geneticists have explained that the
cloning they are requesting would allow them to
recreate the heart muscle or spinal cord marrow,
and doesn't represent a threat to society.

Researchers at the Advanced Cell Technologies
Society (ACT) in Massachusetts, United States,
have cloned six cows from cells in their final
period of life and reversed the cellular aging
process, according to an AFP cable. Cloning
permits the aging mechanism of cells to be
halted and reversed back to zero.

The U.S. scientists declared that not only did the
cows enjoy perfect health, but also showed no
signs of the premature aging that was observed in
Dolly the sheep. However, U.S. professors of
biology who were consulted have expressed
their skepticism about the experiment.

A professor of genetics at the University of Utah,
quoted by AFP, said that human cloning would imply
consequences that go beyond science and that
become a social question.

The essence of the subject is that the science of
cloning must not follow the same path as that of
Swede Alfred Bernhard Nobel's invention of
dynamite, with the best of intentions. Nobel died
full of remorse about the uses to which his
discovery was later put.

Macdonald Stainsby
Check out  the Tao ten point program:

"The only truly humanitarian war would be one against
underdevelopment, hunger and disease."
- Fidel Castro

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