CNN SUNDAY MORNING
Interview With Bill Nye
Aired December 29, 2002 - 10:18 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: To claims now of a cloned human. If the controversial group called the Raelians was looking for congratulations, it is undoubtedly disappointed. Mainstream scientific, religious, and political leaders around the world are condemning the announcement. A team of experts has been picked to check into the group's claim that it has delivered a baby girl cloned from her mother's DNA. The Raelians say humans are the creation of extra terrestrials.
And the scientists with the religious sect, CloneAid, that company has never been published, has never been published by any kind of credible scientific journal and the groups' leaders say, it is -- quote -- " A beautiful day for humanity."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAEL, RAELIAN MOVEMENT LEADER: I trust her and I think I trust science. And I trust the possibility everybody in the world now is crazy about what if the child has a problem, what if -- OK, I say, what if the child is perfectly healthy and beautiful? I think opponents to cloning are more afraid of that than of the fault. In fact, they are more afraid of the success.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: If the claim proves true, is it a beautiful thing? For some of those answers we want to turn to Bill Nye, "The Science Guy," who joins us from Seattle.
Good to see you again.
BILL NYE, "THE SCIENCE GUY": Good morning, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: OK. Well, the mainstream scientific community is casting a lot of doubt on this, not on the notion of therapeutic cloning, but particularly on reproductive cloning. Why?
NYE: Well, here's the thing. What's called therapeutic cloning and reproductive cloning are almost exactly the same thing until the very last step. That is to say you -- people are able to take the nucleus, the center of an egg, an ovum, a woman's egg, out and replace it with DNA from another cell, and the cell can be from almost anywhere in somebody's body. And this is the term somatic cell, which means a body cell.
So anyway, you're able to put the DNA from somebody else into this thing and make it grow. You could either, at that point, make it grow into a human by implanting it into a womb or the big promise, the thing that everybody is so reasonably excited about is to grow what are called stem cells. And the stem cells are these cells, as near as anybody can tell, are completely undifferentiated.
The stem cells can grow into eye cells, hand cells, fingernail cells, nose cells, whatever you like. And so, the process is exactly the same until the very last thing. The thing that's creepy about reproductive cloning is you'd be making a new person without having two consulting adults create new genes through conventional sex and so, this cloned individual would be very different, would be...
WHITFIELD: And is there great...
NYE: ... fifty percent different from most of us.
WHITFIELD: Is there great concern now that if, indeed, what this group claims to have done, has taken place, that perhaps this whole announcement whether it proves true or not, quite frankly, might in some way delay or present a new obstacle for the use of cloning for stem cell research?
NYE: Yes. Yes, that's exactly right. You hit the nail on the head, that if these people, who have seemed to be so out of the mainstream, are pursuing this technology, then the tendency will be to ban the technology altogether, despite its process. So this is a big concern, but it is -- here's the thing, everybody. Whether you believe these guys, the Raelians, have pulled this off or not, this is a great moment for all of us to pause and reflect on where we stand on this thing. That is to say is it reasonable to replace DNA in an ovum and grow stem cells or is it reasonable to replace DNA and grow a person. And should we have laws about that? Should we have tax rates and so on? And so, I encourage everyone to take a little bit of time and understand it as best you can and that is the term cloning is used in two ways.
WHITFIELD: And in this case of the group CloneAid, it claims that this baby that they claim was born on Thursday is a healthy baby. And if it is indeed the case that this is a baby that was cloned and it is healthy right now, is it also the concern that somewhere down the line, as it was seen in cattle that was cloned and even Dolly the sheep, that there are health problems that may emerge much later in the game?
NYE: Oh, exactly. That's why anybody in the mainstream science community or any reading that you do, anyone that you speak with, is completely against reproductive cloning of people. You know, farm animals are one thing. I mean we -- you know, we eat for crying out loud.
But Dolly the sheep, yes, has some unusual arthritis and had these foreshortened talameres (ph). In other words, her genetic information was as though she was born older, you know, like George Bailey. You know, it was like she is just not -- wasn't really a regular sheep. However, Dolly was able to go on and have lambs, baby sheep. So, she wasn't that unusual. Here's the thing though. You'd be experimenting with people. You'd be bringing a kid into the world, a child, into the world that may have all kinds of subtle never before realized genetic problems all because we are focused on doing what is possible rather than what might be reasonable.
WHITFIELD: Now, you happen to touch on these matters of concern of cloning and therapeutic and reproductive and otherwise, I suppose. In a new show coming up, "The Eyes of Nye," on TBS, right?
NYE: Yes. Yes, that's right. The pilot was about cloning, so I spent quite a bit of time with this. But I got to tell you, the promise of stem cells is, well, it's astonishing. People are able to take an ovum, fertilize -- not fertilize it, let me say, jolt it, that is to say induce it to start growing, fuse it they call it -- fuse it so that it starts growing into cells. Well, these cells are completely undifferentiated.
If you take them out of the ovum and grow them off, for example, in a petri dish, they don't grow into a person. They just keep reproducing themselves as stem cells. And if you can find ways to subtly induce them, to become, for example, nerve cells, for example, you can, apparently, as near as anybody can tell, you can repair spinal cord injuries. Now, there may be some subtle problems yet to be realized with that, but right now the research is just remarkable. It's very promising.
And our concern, as you pointed out right away, was -- is that people will confuse the remarkable promise of stem cell technology with the unsettling, maybe even reckless reproducing of people through the same cloning technology.
WHITFIELD: All right, Bill, as usual, you're a busy man, not only do you have your TV show or the new installment coming out on TBS, but a new book as well.
NYE: Oh, we got a kid's big. Oh yes.
WHITFIELD: "Great Big Dinosaur Day?"
NYE: "Dinosaur Day." You know, I reached a point where, you know, people said, "Bill, you got to write a book about dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs."
WHITFIELD: All right.
NYE: Hey, who doesn't?
WHITFIELD: Well, we'll have you back to talk a little bit about that.
NYE: Well, that'd be great.
WHITFIELD: All right.
NYE: Well, good morning, you guys. Please think about this issue.
WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks very much.
NYE: Happy New Year.
WHITFIELD: You've given us a lot to think about. Thanks.
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