The team that created Dolly the sheep has been awarded two more patents on the cloning technology it developed, reports this week's Nature. The researchers, based at the Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, had already won two British patents related to their nuclear transfer technique, in which the genetic information of an unfertilised egg is replaced with that of a donor cell.
The new patents are concerned with techniques that enable the donor cell nucleus to remain in contact with the host egg for several hours before the egg is 'activated', and allowed to start growing into an embryo. The Roslin scientists argue that this delay can increase the efficiency of cloning, and may even be essential in some animal species. But other scientists in this highly competitive field say they can clone successfully without infringing the patents.
Meanwhile, the pressure group GeneWatch has called for stricter guidelines on the use of DNA samples by biotech companies. It highlighted the use of a Danish woman's DNA by PPL Therapeutics in the production of a flock of genetically altered sheep. The sheep are part of the firm's research project to develop 'pharmed' proteins as treatments for human diseases. Dr Sue Mayer, director of GeneWatch, claims that many people would find this 'morally objectionable'. 'Certainly most donors do not think their DNA will be patented, inserted into animals or bacteria and used to boost the profits of some company' she said.
Dr Ron James, head of PPL, said the firm owned the idea [of the technique], not the donor's DNA. 'I am sure that if the lady knew we were going to use the sample to cure people with cystic fibrosis she probably would not have minded' he added.