The government has bowed to the very compelling evidence of the House of Commons Science & Technology Committee, collated at short notice at the beginning of the year in response to the government's white paper and to the reaction of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to two applications to create cytoplasmic hybrids ("cybrids") for research purposes.

Following a somewhat clunky public consultation in the autumn, the white paper had proposed to ban the creation, for research purposes, of human/animal hybrids and chimeras. The HFEA then delayed making a decision in relation to the cybrids. A cybrid is created by replacing the nucleus of an animal oocyte with that of a human. The importance of the technique, recently devised (but barely repeated) by a leading Chinese researcher, is that it has the potential to remove the most serious bottleneck in stem cell research: the supply of human eggs. However, cybrids are neither hybrids (essentially a genetically-fused entity) nor chimeras (in which cells from two or more organisms develop together in a single creature that,- to the disappointment of Dr Who fans, is spectacularly normal). The HFEA could not determine whether it had jurisdiction over cybrids (which had not even been mentioned in the public consultation), delaying the grant of research licences until the conclusion of its own consultation.

The new Human Tissues & Embryos (Draft) Bill proposes that the creation of inter-species entities (cybrids, human transgenic embryos and human/animal chimeras, but not "true" hybrids; ie. those created from the fusion of animal and human gametes) should be legal, subject to a 14 day cap and a licensing regime. To avoid there being two licensing authorities (i.e. the Home Office as regards animals under the Animal (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 and the HFEA as regards human embryos), the Bill removes the responsibility of the Home Office for such entities.

The HFEA is consulting on the issue independently. Whatever your views, we would encourage you to participate.