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World's First Clone Farm Being Built In New Zealand

By Jonathan Leake - Science Editor Sunday Times

9th Jan 2000

Scientists are building the world's first clone farm. A researcher from the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, which created Dolly the sheep, has moved to New Zealand to help build up a 1,500-strong herd of genetically engineered cows. The cows, intended to produce medicines in their milk, will mark the first attempt to use cloning in commercial agriculture. Eventually clone farms could be set up throughout the world to help combat diseases including multiple sclerosis and cystic fibrosis. Many New Zealanders are outraged by the project, which they have dubbed "Frankenstein's farm". They say that it and another scheme for a 10,000-strong flock of "transgenic" sheep will destroy New Zealand's reputation for being free of genetic engineering. AgResearch, the New Zealand government agency behind the farm, has established its cloning programme at Ruakura, on the North Island, using friesian holstein cattle. The cloning programme is led by David Wells, who formerly worked at the Roslin Institute with Ian Wilmut, one of the creators of Dolly. Dolly was created by destroying the nucleus of a sheep's egg cell and replacing it with another taken from an adult cell of an entirely different sheep. The cell divided and grew into an embryo that was implanted into a surrogate mother. Wells has used a similar technique to create 16 cloned friesian heifers. He has added a further refinement, also perfected at Roslin, by inserting human genes into the cloned embryo. The result is that each heifer contains the human MBP gene which, in humans, enables the body to manufacture myelin. This substance surrounds nerve cells, enabling them to conduct impulses, and is absent or faulty in people with multiple sclerosis (MS). When the heifers are mated, their female offspring produce milk containing human myelin basic protein (MBP). This can be extracted and could prove useful as a treatment for MS, a neurological disorder that affects about 85,000 people in Britain. AgResearch also hopes to introduce the human myostatin gene - responsible for controlling muscle growth - into other cows to produce compounds to help people with muscular dystrophy, a crippling genetic condition that stops muscle development. Dr Harry Griffin, a spokesman for Roslin, confirmed that it had close links with AgResearch. "There is a small community of scientists in this area and David Wells and Ian Wilmut are following each other's progress and working closely," he said. Roslin also has close links with PPL Therapeutics, which is seeking to establish a 10,000-strong milking flock of transgenic or genetically modified sheep on a hill farm at Mangakino, in the central area of the North Island. The sheep have been genetically modified to contain the human gene for alpha-1-anti-trypsin (AAT). This can be extracted from their milk to treat conditions such as cystic fibrosis. PPL likes to operate in New Zealand because, as well as its freedom from the sheep brain disease scrapie, land is cheap and rules governing genetic engineering are relatively weak. That attitude could change rapidly. Protest groups such as Revolt Against Genetic Engineering (Rage) are gaining support and the Green party - which holds the balance of power in a coalition with Labour - is pressing the government to impose a moratorium on field trials of cloned and genetically altered animals.

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