French Scientists Clone Bunnies in Time for Easter

March 30, 2002; Paris, FRANCE (Reuters) -- Just in time for Easter, French scientists say they have successfully cloned rabbits from adult cells for the first time. A research team from France's National Institute for Agricultural Research outside Paris made the breakthrough, which follows the successful cloning of sheep, cattle, goats, mice, pigs, and cats elsewhere. Scientists say cloning animals will help their understanding of human diseases by allowing them to target individual genes. Cloned rabbits are particularly useful because their physiology matches humans more closely than rats or mice.

Cloning might seem rather redundant in view of the bunny's ability to reproduce by natural methods," said a report of the research published by New York-based Nature Biotechnology magazine. But "the possibility of targeting specific genes during the cloning process could markedly enhance the use of rabbits as models of human disease," it added.

The team used the usual cloning method of injecting cells from an adult rabbit into an egg. The resulting embryos were reared by surrogate mother rabbits. Jean-Paul Renard and his colleagues at the national institute said the discovery showed that in theory any mammal could be cloned, as long as scientists adapted their methods to the physiological features of the egg and embryo.

Unlike the first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep, or the first cloned cat, CC, the rabbits were *not* given names. A U.S. study published last month stoked debate over whether cloning is safe, or even if it produces exact copies, when it showed cloned mice became obese even when they did not overeat.