Raelians Front and Center on Cloning

The religious sect connected to the company claiming it has produced the first human clone is clearly unlike anything that science has grappled with.

The group's founder says he met little green space aliens on a visit to a French volcano in the 1970s. That man — a former French journalist named Claude Vorilhon, who now calls himself Rael — says the extraterrestrials told him they created life on earth through genetic engineering.

Brigitte Boisselier, the chemist who made Friday's cloning announcement, is a Raelian herself — a bishop, in fact.

At the news conference she appeared to be wearing the Raelian silver medallion combining the Star of David and a snowflake, symbolizing infinite time and space.

Cloning humans is at the heart of the Raelian theology of "scientific creation," which they describe as an alternative to both Darwinian evolution and creation dogma of the major religions.

"Cloning is the key to eternal life," Rael says. The group claims 55,000 devotees worldwide and operates its own theme park, UFOland, near Montreal.

During the 1990s, Quebec granted religious status to the Raelian movement. Its representatives have conducted condom distribution programs aimed at Canadian teenagers. They also have tried to persuade Roman Catholics to renounce their faith, prompting lawsuits.

Clonaid, the first human cloning company, was founded in February 1997, right after Scottish scientists announced the birth of Dolly the sheep, the first mammal to have been cloned from an adult.

Rael and a group of investors created Valiant Venture Ltd., a corporation based in the Bahamas, to run Clonaid, a project whose main goal is produce the first human clone.

Clonaid says on its Web site that after pressure from the Bahamian government — which feared the experiments might be conducted on one of its islands — Valiant Ventures was dissolved. In 2000, Rael handed the Clonaid project over to Boisselier.

Boisselier formerly taught chemistry at Hamilton College in Clinton,and worked as marketing director for a unidentified large chemical company in France.

In interviews, she has said her 24-year-old daughter would be among the young women in the movement who would carry cloned babies to term.

Experts have dismissed the notion that Clonaid is capable of producing a human clone because Boisselier does not have a track record in the field of either animal cloning or human reproduction.

But Rael has said: "Nothing can stop science."