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Father of the impossible children

Severino Antinori is a physician whose reputation among infertile couples is far overshadowed by his international fame as the man who wants to clone a human being.

Antinori was born 56 years ago to small landowners in a village of Abruzzi,a region of central-southern Italy. The young Severino would watch with fascination while his uncle,a veterinarian,would artificially inseminate cows on surrounding farms. After his family moved to Rome,Antinori signed up for medical studies,where he soon discovered his intolerance for,as he puts it,the"academic mafia that was ruling the university. "Still,he met Caterina Versaci there,and the two married shortly after they received their medical degrees. Specializing in gastroenterology and,later,in gynecology,Antinori worked in various posts around Italy before landing at Regina Elena,a public fertility hospital in Rome.
In 1986,he says,he oversaw the birth of the first Italian child to be conceived in a publicly funded clinic through in vitro fertilization(IVF). But after clashing with some of his colleagues and hospital administrators,he resigned and,with his wife,set up the Associated Researchers for Human Reproduction(RAPRUI)clinic. Antinori made his mark in the late1980s,when he pioneered a technique called subzonal insemination(SUZI)to position sperm below the zona pellucida,the barrier around the egg,or oocyte. His work opened the way to intracytoplasmic sperm injection(ICSI),in which a single sperm is injected directly into the egg cell. He later introduced lasers to facilitate embryonic implantation. His résumélists a professorship of human reproduction at the University of Rome as well as about 40journal publications. In the past decade,however,he has become more involved with the judicial system than the peer-review one.

ICSI is routine today. It is the only option for mil lions of men who are subfertile--that is,men who have low-motility sperm. Indeed,according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,more than90percent of U. S. fertility labs offered the procedure in1999,although geneticists warn that the technique results in an alarming number of chromosomal abnormalities.

But ICSI is not enough to help all his patients. There are 100 million men who don't produce any sperm,and genetic reprogramming is the sole solution,he says. "Genetic reprogramming。"he emphasizes. "Not cloning. Cloning is a hollywood-style term. It makes you think that you'll get a series of identical individuals. That's idiocy. "Even if most of the clone's DNA comes from the donated nucleus,he argues,the oocyte still contributes a small percentage of genes from the mitochondria,meaning that cloning to produce two identical individuals is impossible.

he world glimpsed Antinori's flamboyance last August,when he,along with other would-be cloners,including Panayiotis Zavos and Brigitte Boisselier,took on the medical establishment at a colloquium organized by the National Academy of Sciences(NAS)in Washington,D. C. Most animal clones die before delivery or suffer from severe birth defects. Top experts,including the creator of Dolly the sheep,Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh,Scotland,revealed that human clones could meet the same fate. Antinori and the other proponents were un-fazed by such warnings. He dismissed the Dolly studies as"veterinary animal work. "

Antinori's determination to clone threatens his current livelihood. In September he was expelled from A PART,an international association of private fertility clinics of which he was once vice president;the reason,in part,was his"disreputable 

Still,Antinori is not about to abandon reproductive cloning:about 600 infertile couples in Italy and more than06,00in the U. S. have already signed up for the procedure,he says. And the media buzz has so far helped his daily practice. "He is expensive,but we came here because they say he's the best,"explains a patient waiting anxiously while his wife undergoes an IVF procedure. The human imperative to procreate is sure to keep Antinori's waiting room filled--and cloned babies on the agenda.

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