In the latest Star Wars film Attack of the Clones, a well-trained army of clone troopers performs brilliantly under pressure and saves the Jedi knights from almost certain defeat. In real life, however, the white-armoured clones of bounty hunter Jango Fett would likely suffer from arthritis, premature aging, mental defects, and other ailments if they had not already died in infancy, according to research published in the journal Nature Genetics.

A team at the University of Connecticut discovered that cloned cows had flaws in nine out of 10 genes studied on their X chromosomes, one of the two chromosomes that determine a mammal’s gender. Males are born with X and Y chromosomes, while females have two X chromosomes, one of which is “silent,” meaning it does not activate genes. In cloned cows, however, flaws in the X chromosome meant the copy of the X was incompletely switched off, meaning it provided conflicting gene instructions with the other X.

According to team member Cindy Trian, the cow findings suggest that attempts to replicate human beings will likely fail. She told Agence France-Press that “99 per cent (of cloned human embryos) will fail to come to term, and of the one percent that might live, a high percentage will die shortly after birth because of gene expression problems.”

As if to underscore Trian’s point, the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh Scotland revealed earlier this year that Dolly the sheep, who was created in 1996 from a single cell taken from a six-year-old ewe, is suffering from an unusual form of arthritis that is rarely found in sheep her age, and could indicate premature aging. Dolly was the only “successful” clone out of 247 attempts.

Cloning creates a genetic duplicate of another creature. The most common method of replication involves removing the nucleus of an egg and replacing it with DNA from a donor animal. The new DNA reprograms the egg, and transfers into it the entire genetic code of the donor. The Dolly experiment showed the biggest problem is to ensure that all the genes in the transferred genetic code work properly, and are capable of making and repairing cells.

Speaking to The Interim, bioethicist Dianne Irving says the pro-cloning side has “bombarded the public with propaganda over the past two to three decades about how wonderful this technology is, when the truth is (human embryonic cloning) is nowhere near being a standard medical procedure, and there is a tremendous amount of concern among scientists about this.”

One of Irving’s concerns is the “erroneous scientific language” used by pro-cloning scientists to argue that single-celled embryos are not really human beings, and are therefore acceptable for experimentation. She adds there are other concerns that implanted cloned embryos could create cancerous growths within the mother. “At this point, human embryonic cloning is just research, and human trials will have to be done before it can become a medical procedure,” says Irving. “Women have a lot to worry about from reproductive cloning.”

Father Joseph Howard of the Human Life League told The Interim last year that “the number one problem (with cloning) is it violates a child’s right to be born in-utero. It subjects a child to the possibility of gruesome experiments, and cloning is fraught with tremendous biological dangers. We know that horrible genetic errors can occur in mammals when they’re cloned, and it is wrong to subject a living being to that.”

In spite of these concerns, several groups of scientists have announced plans to clone a human being. In May, Italian gynecologist Severino Antinori told France’s Le Monde that three women are currently pregnant with clones – two in Russia and one in a third country. In April, Dr. Antinori announced that a patient of his in a Muslim country – thought to be a rich Arab – would give birth to a “completely healthy” baby, and that 85 per cent of the child’s genetic makeup would come from the father, and 15 per cent from the mother. Antinori claims it is a “certainty” that the genetic problems seen in other animals do not occur in human beings.

Dr. Panayiotis Zavos of the Andrology Institute of America told the U.S. Congress last month that five groups of scientists – including one headed by the Raelian religious cult, which believes human beings were created by extraterrestrials, are racing to develop the first cloned baby, which he thinks will be born in 2003. Interestingly, Zavos was once a colleague of Antinori’s, yet he has expressed skepticism about Antinori’s recent announcements, and severed relations with the Italian doctor, saying: “I worry a great deal about Severino and the way he is approaching the subject.”