WASHINGTON -- There are no compelling legal or ethical reasons to bar an attempt to clone Abraham Lincoln's genes from tissue samples obtained at the time of his assassination, a panel of experts has concluded.
The committee, assembled by the government museum that holds samples of Lincoln's tissue, said yesterday that it considered issues of privacy, probable consent, ethics and law -- and gave the proposal a "qualified green light."
The nine-member panel, headed by Dr. Victor A. McKusick, professor of medical genetics at Johns Hopkins University, concluded that there was merit in the proposal to see if Lincoln suffered from a potentially fatal genetic disease called Marfan syndrome, which is characterized in part by a tall, gangling appearance.
In February, the National Museum of Health and Medicine, an affiliate of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, asked the committee to advise it on whether to examine the samples of Lincoln's hair, bone chips and blood stains in its collection to see if any DNA remains 126 years after Lincoln's death.
Such tests would require the destruction of a small amount of the samples.
"The panel's conclusion is that exploration of the technical aspects of the Lincoln DNA Marfan study be encouraged to proceed," McKusick said.
McKusick and other panel members said there was no urgency in beginning laboratory work on the tissue samples because a definitive genetic test for Marfan has not yet been developed.
After the news conference, Jeremy Rifkin, a frequent critic of genetic research who heads a Washington-based organization called the Foundation on Economic Trends, said he would oppose the project to clone Lincoln's DNA and would ask Congress to investigate.