Defined by the company one keeps

Expressions of shock and concern about the pace of human cloning became more shrill last week. However, whatever may or may not have occurred in a South Korean lab that claimed to have cloned a human cell, it has virtually no bearing on the progress toward cloning a human, as there already is broad agreement that such cloning is possible. But the U.S. media's treatment of the Korean experiment points to an important challenge for the biotech industry: separating itself in the public's perception from practitioners of assisted reproduction technologies.

To the biotech industry, fertility clinics may seem far removed from biotech breakthroughs. But it is unlikely to work in the industry's favor if Ian Wilmut, the Roslin Institute scientist who pioneered mammalian cloning, can be lumped in the popular press and the public's mind with Richard Seed, the iconoclastic physicist who announced last week that he is establishing a clinic in Japan to clone his wife.