Who owns the clones?
By Philip Cohen THE first shots in the war to decide who “owns” the technology of cloning have been fired. Two research groups last week clashed in print over scientific details that may decide how the commercial spoils of animal cloning are divided. In a letter to Science (vol 281, p 1611), two of the creators of Dolly the sheep, Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute and Keith Campbell of the biotech firm PPL Therapeutics, both near Edinburgh, challenge the claim by a competing group to have cloned cows by a technique that isn’t covered by the Dolly team’s patents. That claim came from a team of biologists led by Jim Robl of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Steven Stice of Advanced Cell Technology in nearby Worcester. In May, they published a paper in Science (vol 280, p 1256) describing the cloning of cows from actively dividing cells. Wilmut and his colleagues say that one of the keys to creating Dolly was using cells in a phase called G0, a state of genetic slumber in which they don’t divide and most of their genes are shut down. The team’s patents are drafted to cover cloning using such quiescent cells. The letter from Wilmut and Campbell disputes the Massachusetts team’s claim to have used dividing cells. “In fact, there is every reason to expect that quiescent cells were present in the cultures,” they write. “We know that quiescent cells work,” Wilmut told New Scientist. He feels the onus is on Robl and Stice to prove that their technique doesn’t depend on such cells. In a response published with Wilmut and Campbell’s letter, the American researchers “consider it highly unlikely” that they used quiescent cells, but add that they are in the process of testing how common such cells were in their cultures. This outbreak of hostilities follows earlier sabre rattling. When researchers at the University of Hawaii reported cloning mice (This Week, 25 July, p 4), the Roslin team quickly pointed out that the cells used were quiescent. But the Hawaii team has filed its own patents, thought to concentrate on novel aspects of its technique, including injecting nuclei from donor cells into eggs stripped of their chromosomes, rather than fusing donor and egg cells. With corporate money starting to pour into cloning, experts agree that scuffles over intellectual property rights are likely to intensify. “We know there’s a lot at stake here,