By Tim Waggoner

SAN DIEGO, June 20, 2008 ( – Creating human/cow hybrid cloned embryos has turned out to be easier than researchers expected, said a U.K. team. Scientists from Newcastle University announced their findings during the May BIO biotechnology conference in San Diego.

The Financial Times has reported that Lyle Armstrong, leader of the human/animal hybrid embryo project explained to the conference that the process of putting human skin cell DNA in the place of the nuclei of a cow’s ovum has already produced roughly 270 hybrid embryos. 

Dr. Armstrong told the FT that the project was intended to remedy the shortage of human ova, which he said are needed for stem cell research. The news service also said that no other research team has communicated intent to produce hybrid embryos on such a large scale.

“We might be able to get eight to 10 human oocytes (ova) of sufficient quality per month,” he said. “We can get 200 cow ova a day from the local meat industry.”

Dr. Armstrong also tried to convince listeners that the creation of the cloned embryos is ethically sound.

“The embryos are mostly self-regulating, because they arrest naturally at 32 cells – which is quite good from the ethical point of view,” said the doctor. “There is no way these embryos could develop into a foetus.”

The U.K.‘s Human Fertilization and Embryology Act has not been updated or amended since its institution in 1990. As a result, over the last ten years, the UK’s Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has granted permissions on a case-by-case basis for the creation of human embryos for research.

Currently, a controversial bill is working its way through the legal system that would ratify a host of anti-life decisions made over the years by the HFEA, widely seen as the most permissive government regulatory agency in the world.

This past March a number of the U.K.‘s most prominent clergy, including Cardinal Keith O’Brien, denounced the proposed bill. Bishop Patrick O’Donohue told his congregation, “As your bishop, I want to join my voice to that of Cardinal Keith O’Brien and others, in protesting in the strongest terms against the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill”.

He said, “It is not the defenceless, human-animal embryo that is ‘monstrous’; it is we ourselves who have become ‘monsters’ for allowing the exploitation of the unborn for our economic and medical gain.”

In January, despite pressure from pro-life activists, the House of Lords refused to reject clauses in the Human Fertilization and Embryology bill that allow for the creation of and experimentation on human/animal hybrid embryos.