The Department of Health is to allow the creation and use of animal-human ‘hybrid’ embryos for research.
The measure, outlined in a White Paper last December, was originally proposed as part of the new Human Tissues and Embryology Bill.
Two teams of British scientists have applied for permission to produce embryos that would be 99.9 per cent human and 0.1 per cent animal.
The embryos, made using eggs from rabbits or cows and genetic material from human donors, would not be allowed to grow beyond the size of a pinhead.
But scientists say they could provide a plentiful source of stem cells for vital research into diseases and new treatments. The alternative is to use human eggs, usually left over from in-vitro fertilisation treatment, which are in very short supply.
The White Paper called for an immediate ban on hybrid embryos, while allowing for a review if circumstances changed.
Scientists, medical research charities and patient organisations strongly attacked the plan in letters to Prime Minister Tony Blair and The Times newspaper.
Last month MPs on the Science and Technology Select Committee published a highly critical report on the proposal, saying it was “unacceptable and potentially harmful to UK science”.
Later Ms Flint issued a statement that suggested a softening approach.
“We all want to see this research enabled, with suitable regulatory control accompanied by broad public support,” she said.
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, which regulates embryo research, is currently holding a public consultation debate on the ethics of hybrid animal-human embryos.
A policy decision will be announced by the Authority in September. Meanwhile the applications from King’s College London and the University of Newcastle are on hold.