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President Obama today signed an executive order reversing the Bush administration ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

Embryonic stem cells are able to become all the cells of the body. Scientists see potential in them to cure deadly diseases and perhaps allow development of tissues that could replace organs or fix nerves to reverse paralysis. In 2001, Bush limited federal funding to existing lines of embryonic stem cells derived from embryos that had already been destroyed.

The Bush administration had banned federal funding for research into embryonic stem cells except for 21 lines that existed in 2001.

"I cannot guarantee that we will find the treatments and cures we seek," Obama said. "No president can promise that. But I can promise that we will seek them actively, responsibly, and with the urgency required to make up for lost ground."

The order doesn't address a separate legislative ban that prevents federal spending to develop new embryonic stem cell lines; that legislation, however, doesn't prevent federal funding to study embryonic stem cell lines once developed. As the Associated Press explains, new lines were creating with the help of other funding during the years of the Bush ban.

Obama's decision is controversial, with opponents arguing that embryos deserve all the protection of human life. For more on the controversy, click here.

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