The Special Reports II

6th January 2002

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Dolly the cloned sheep has arthritis 

Dolly, the world's first cloned mammal, has arthritis, one of her creators said on Friday. The news heightens fears that cloning causes genetic defects. 

Ian Wilmut, of the Edinburgh-based Roslin Institute, who led the team that cloned Dolly, said defects were possible and called for more research: "The fact that Dolly has arthritis at this comparatively young age suggests that there may be problems. We do not know and it's very important that we look". 

Dolly was the first mammal to be cloned with DNA taken from an adult cell from a ewe's udder, and her arrival in 1996 made headlines around the world. But she has now developed arthritis in her left hind leg at the hip and knee and is receiving anti-inflammatory drugs.

In May 1999, genetic research suggested that Dolly might be susceptible to premature ageing. Prof Wilmut said scientists now need to focus on whether diseases like arthritis, which tend to be associated with ageing, occur in a normal way or whether the incidence is changed. 

Arthritis in sheep is not uncommon and can be caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses that can enter a break in the skin, for example, from a cut made during shearing.

Prof Wilmut said Dolly would be monitored closely, and stressed that "in every other way she is perfectly healthy . . . she has given birth to six healthy lambs".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that cloned animals had to be monitored throughout their lives, adding that it was already known that there was an unusual incidence of death of cloned animals around the time of birth.

The news may have repercussions for the controversial, emerging science of cloning. Shares in Edinburgh-based PPL Therapeutics, the biotechnology firm that created Dolly, slumped by 15% in early trading on the London Stock Exchange, down 11p to 62.5p. 

The drop in PPL's shares undercut some of the spectacular gains seen on Wednesday when scientists at a US subsidiary announced they had produced five pig clones which had been genetically modified to help prevent their organs being rejected if they were transplanted into a human. 

The pigs - Noel, Angel, Star, Joy and Mary - were said to mark a milestone in the development of animal to human transplants, and PPL's shares soared 46% to 77.5p. 

Dan Lyons, of the animal protection group CAGE, said: "Biology is not like Lego, it's not like Meccano, you can't just interfere with one aspect of an animal's system and expect the rest of the system to continue to function perfectly." 

He said Dolly's disease showed why it was crucial that everyone working in areas related to cloning pooled their information, adding that the research was too commercially motivated. - Guardian, London

Rebuilding the Bamiyan Buddhas

Nine months after Afghanistan's fundamentalist rulers caused a global outcry by demolishing the renowned 5th-century Buddhas of the Bamiyan valley, their successors are planning to rebuild their country's greatest archaeological treasure. At the same time, new details about the destruction of the giant statues are emerging from local residents who witnessed the event.

The Taliban's plan to destroy the statues was carefully detailed, they say. The regime commissioned Arab, Sudanese and Bangladeshi demolition experts, as well as Chechen sappers, to do the job. Local residents of Bamiyan—Shiite Hazaras persecuted by and fiercely resistant to the Taliban—were forcibly evacuated ahead of the March destruction. The Taliban, they say, gave them a simple choice: become a Sunni Muslim or leave. Many fled to the nearby mountains. 

The idea of destroying the Buddhas was so repugnant to most Afghans that even the Taliban's regional culture minister even disobeyed the order to participate. Some locals who did stay were forced into grunt labor during the two-week scheme. "People couldn't resist the Taliban," says Nowruz, 25. For three days, Nowruz was forced to dig, alternately using his hands or a pick, in order to pack explosives around the 114-foot Buddha—the smaller of the two statues flattened by the Taliban. He still bears scars on his knuckles from the digging and a scar on his knee where rock fragments hit him after an explosion. 

Nowruz is now one of hundreds of refugees living in the caves carved out of the cliffs alongside the Buddhas. Those caves were once inhabited by thousands of monks who had come on pilgrimages to see the famous statues. During the sixth and seventh centuries AD, the monks—many from China and India—would gather to hear sermons amplified through the nostrils of the larger 165-foot statue.

When the Taliban destroyed the statues last March, residents hiding in the mountains at the time say they heard explosions for three or four days. Members of Hizb-e-Wahdat, the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance faction in Bamiyan, reported heavy radio traffic, mostly congratulatory messages, between Taliban soldiers in the days following the explosions. Fifty cows were sacrificed at the site and Taliban dignitaries were flown in by helicopter for the celebration. 

The Pakistan-based Al-Rasheed Trust, thought to have links to Osama bin Laden, even printed a memorial calendar detailing the destruction. Today, all that's left of the Bamiyan Buddhas is rubble. And even the rubble isn't left to rest in peace. Bits of rock from the statues, which were not included on the list of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites because of the chaos within Afghanistan, have been smuggled out to Pakistani art dealers and made their way as far as Japan. "When the Bamiyan Buddhas were destroyed, it felt like Afghanistan lost a child," says Deputy Culture Minister Mirheydar Motaher. 

But, like the cycle of birth and death fundamental to Buddhist thought, the statues may be getting a chance at reincarnation. Culture Minister Raheen Makhdoom officially announced plans for the reconstruction of the Buddhas last week. "The world should set an example to show extremists that today there are possibilities to reconstruct, and there is the will to reconstruct, such edifices after they are destroyed," Paul Bucherer-Dietschi, UNESCO's representative in the reconstruction effort, told NEWSWEEK during a survey mission of the Buddha site last week. A conference is tentatively scheduled for next May to hammer out the details. 

Historical purists may disagree with the idea of reconstruction, but, for the moment, dissenting voices are getting drowned out by the lure of tourist dollars. "Reconstruction won't have the same historical value," says Motaher. "But it's a positive step for the country and could bring thousands of tourists." The reconstruction plan, if approved, will begin with the sale of 20-inch replicas of the Buddhas to collect funds. A scale model one-tenth of the actual size will then be constructed to work through technical difficulties. For example, designers will have to figure out how to stand the larger Buddha on two legs, since its own were missing for centuries. The final reconstruction will use the most accurate measurements of the Buddhas available, with less than a one-inch margin of error, taken by an Austrian mountaineer over thirty years ago.

Afghanistan's new authorities also hope to reinstate some of their country's other cultural artifacts. The Kabul Museum, a dark and dusty shell littered with statue rubble, lost approximately 2,750 works of art during Taliban rule. But hundreds more survived, smuggled out to Switzerland by members of the Northern Alliance and more moderate Taliban supporters. Bucherer-Dietschi, who opened the Afghanistan Museum in Bubendorf, Switzerland, a year ago, hopes the items will soon be sent back to Kabul for display at a new museum location.

– Newsweek 

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