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Iran Claims It Is First Country in Middle East to Clone a Cow

Iranian scientists have become the first in the Middle East to clone a cow as part of the country's stem cell research, the leader of the project said Saturday.

The male cow, named Bonyana, was born Saturday in the city of Isfahan in central Iran, said Dr. Mohammed Hossein Nasr e Isfahani, head of the Royan Research Institute.

Besides its nuclear activity and nascent space program, Iran has sought to highlight advances in other technologies such as cloning and medicine. The government set a goal to become a regional leader in advanced sciences and technology by 2025.

Iran announced in 2006 that it cloned a sheep and in April it said it cloned a goat.

"With the birth of Bonyana, Iran proved its technological advances in stem cell research. This is the first cloned cow in the Middle East. It was our first successful cow cloning after two previous failures," said Isfahani, an embryologist.

Isfahani said the cloning of animals could lead to advances in medical research, including using cloned animals to produce human antibodies against diseases.

Isfahani said his institute also had the capability to preserve animals on the verge of extinction through cloning.

He said his institute plans more experiments in genetics and stem cell research using animal cells.

Iran's Shiite Muslim religious leaders have issued decrees authorizing animal cloning but banning any attempts at human cloning. A majority of Iran's nearly 70 million people are Shiite Muslims.

In contrast, Sunni Muslim religious leaders -- including senior clerics in Saudi Arabia -- have banned cloning altogether.