Dolly the Sheep Was a Clone
Edinburgh Scientist Maintains

by Jacqui Wise
British Medical Journal (February 21, 1998)

Dr Ian Wilmut, the head of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, has hit back at critics who have suggested that Dolly the sheep was not a clone.

Dolly was the first animal to be cloned from adult cells, using a nuclear transfer process. Criticisms have centred on the fact that other scientists have not managed to repeat the work and that, because the adult ewe from which the mammary gland cells were taken is no longer alive, it is not possible to compare the DNA directly.

Dr Wilmut told the conference that the criticism was probably a case of sour grapes, although he agreed that it was important for scientific results to be repeated.

"If in a year's time it still has not been repeated then we should worry," he said. "There is a faint possibility that Dolly came from fetal cells that were in the maternal circulation, but the odds of this being the case are one in many millions." He added that he had no plans to repeat the experiment using the same cells but would not rule out similar experiments with different animals and tissue types. Dr Wilmut said that his laboratory and an independent one would carry out tests to confirm that Dolly was a true clone and would publish the results.

In a debate on human cloning, Dr Wilmut said that he could think of no instances where human cloning would be acceptable. All lambs born through cloning died within a few days, and there was also increased loss of animals during pregnancy. "At present it would be inhuman to carry this out with a human being," he said. He found it unacceptable to use the technology to copy people in order to overcome infertility or to replace a lost relative. What might be acceptable, however, was to use the nuclear transfer technique to prevent offspring inheriting a mitochondrial disease from its mother. Similarly, if an embryo was found to have cystic fibrosis it might be possible to grow out the cells and correct the mutation.

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