Cow + Man = A Lot of Bull?

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NEW YORK: Don't have a cow - not yet, anyway. The experiment reported in Thursday's New York Times, in which a Massachusetts biotech firm fused a human cell with a cow cell to create that primeval soup known as stem cells (which can be transformed into either human tissue or a clone of its donor), has been greeted with a healthy dose of skepticism by observers who suggest the Times has been duped. "They haven't done the science," says TIME science editor Phillip Elmer-DeWitt. "They haven't reproduced it. It isn't science until you do it a second time." Indeed, the biotech firm Advanced Cell Technologies has offered little more than a patent application and a photograph of embryonic cells under a microscope.

"They could have given a little more assurance as to what was being done here," said Dr. John Gearhart of Johns Hopkins - one of the authors of a successful study released last week in which stem cells were created from dead human embryos. ACT's experiment is raising eyebrows because cows and humans took separate evolutionary paths more than 10 million years ago; the two cell nuclei are so different that they're unlikely to stick together for long. "There's no reason to believe this thing would get past a few cell divisions," says Elmer-DeWitt.

ACT claims it went public now to gauge the acceptability of such research and to help decide whether to commit money to it. But peer review is going to be tough, given that it's unlikely that any serious scientific journal will publish ACT's skimpy material as it stands. Nor will the market make anything out of it -- ACT has no IPO on the horizon.