Virginia's two candidates for governor expressed alarm Saturday that researchers had created human embryos in the lab solely to harvest their stem cells.

News that the embryos had been created by the private Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Norfolk, Va., sparked national debate earlier this week.

Scientists had previously been known to derive stem cells only from excess embryos donated from infertility treatments.

"I was troubled at the idea of creating stem cells," Democrat Mark Warner said. "I have asked for a briefing on it, but we need to hear this issue out before we rush to judgment."

Warner, who has a daughter with diabetes, said stem cell research offers enormous potential for cures for such diseases.

Republican Mark Earley, while not condemning all stem cell research, attacked the use of embryos.

"You ought to be more than troubled, Mark, if there is a place in Virginia that — on its own basically without public discussion — begins to create human embryos for the sole purpose of experimentation and destruction," Earley said.

Earley said it was possible to research the lifesaving possibilities of stem cells by using the bone marrow of adults.

Interest in embryonic stem cells centers on their ability to generate other tissues of the body. Doctors hope using stem cells could possibly cure diseases such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and cancer.

Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore has called for an ethics investigation into the research.

President Bush has said he will soon decide whether to allow taxpayer dollars to be used for embryonic stem cell research. He is under pressure from patient groups that favor the research and opponents who feel the work is inherently unethical.

It was the gubernatorial candidates' first debate leading to the Nov. 6 election. They spoke at the Virginia Bar Association's annual summer conference at the Greenbrier Resort.