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Clonaid says it's cloned first boy

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TORONTO, Ontario (CNN) -- Clonaid, the company that has claimed to have cloned two baby girls, announced Thursday that a third cloned baby, a boy, was born Wednesday to a Japanese couple.

Like its previous claims of having cloned the first human females, Clonaid's latest assertion has not been independently verified, meaning the company's claims have been met with widespread doubts.

Clonaid was founded by the Raelian religious sect, which believes mankind was created by extraterrestrials though cloning. A Florida judge has ordered the company to produce the first baby girl so the state may decide if a guardian should be appointed for her care.

It is widely believed by scientists that any human clone would have a multitude of health concerns.

Clonaid claims that the third baby is healthy and was cloned from tissue taken from the Japanese couple's comatose 2-year-old boy, who was injured in an accident and died about 18 months ago.

A surrogate mother donated the egg and carried the child, and "so far, [there are] absolutely no detectable problems," Brigitte Boisselier, chief executive officer of Clonaid, said at a news conference. A surrogate was chosen because the mother, 41, was thought to be at higher risk for miscarriage "and she was not ready to face that," Boisselier said.

Despite popular belief, clones are not identical copies of the original despite the use of the same DNA. Experts say environment is as important as genes in determining a clone's development. In Texas this week, it was announced that the world's first cloned cat does not resemble the original in looks or personality a year after its birth. (Full story).

Some researchers are concerned that an unusually large number of cloned animals have had a predisposition to arthritis and ailments with the lungs and liver. They say there are still too many questions surrounding the cloning of humans for it to be performed safely.

Clonaid has not provided scientific details of how its babies were cloned. Instead it has relied on press conferences to describe the process, but has not been specific.

Boisselier said the cloning of the Japanese boy marked an advance in cloning technology because the DNA of the dead boy was inserted into the egg belonging to the surrogate mother to create the clone. In Clonaid's previous two claims of successful cloning, it said the mother's own eggs were used to create the babies, making them genetically identical to their mothers.

Boisselier said genetic testing is under way to compare frozen tissue from the dead child with the baby to prove that the baby boy is the result of cloning, and she said results would be made public within "five to 10 days."

A picture of the child will be posted on Clonaid's Web site late Thursday or Friday, she said.

But Boisselier also said that because of a Florida court ruling Wednesday, the parents of the first alleged clone, nicknamed Baby Eve by the company, have moved to an undisclosed location and will have no further contact with Clonaid officials in order to protect the child.

"We've decided that I will not have contact with them anymore," she said.

A judge in Broward County ordered Boisselier and Clonaid Vice President Thomas Kaenzig to answer questions about the baby and her whereabouts, in order to determine whether the state of Florida should appoint a guardian for the child. (Full story)

Clonaid attorney Jonathan Schwartz argued that the Florida court did not have jurisdiction because the child was not born in the state and has never been there. Boisselier said Thursday that the parents will not pursue U.S. citizenship for the child, and she made it clear that she will protect the identify of the baby and her parents, even at the expense of her own credibility.

"You may think what you want, but I want them to know that I will always be behind them and I will never reveal who they are if they are not ready," she said.

The suit was filed by Florida attorney Bernard Siegel after Boisselier announced Eve's birth at a news conference in Broward County in December. Officials from Clonaid, which is based in Las Vegas, Nevada, have not disclosed the location where Baby Eve was born, nor the nationality of her parents.

Opening her news conference in Toronto, Boisselier made it clear that the latest cloning claim had no Canadian connection, "just in case some attorney thinks there is a baby to protect here." She said the announcement was made in Canada because she was there visiting friends.

In announcing Baby Eve's birth on December 26, Boisselier said a panel of independent experts would be given access to the child to conduct DNA testing to verify that she is indeed a clone. But after the court case was filed, Clonaid officials decided not to allow the testing. Boisselier said Thursday the parents were afraid their baby might be taken from them.

Clonaid claims that the second cloned girl was born to a lesbian couple in the Netherlands on January 3. Boisselier said Thursday that the couple is considering publicly disclosing their identities and could do so within a few days.

Faced with the substantial skepticism brought on by Clonaid's refusal to allow outside testing, Boisselier said Thursday questions about her credibility don't concern her.

"I'm not asking you to believe me, right? You do whatever you want," she said. "I'm just telling every step of what is going on."

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