Dolly outcome disappoints Wilmut [BBC 2006-07-05]
Professor Ian Wilmut, a member of the team that created Dolly the cloned sheep, says he is "disappointed" that Britain is no longer cloning animals.
[Photo] Dolly the sheep contracted a viral infection resulting in a lung disease common in sheep. After the animal was put to sleep, taxidermists prepared her remains to go on display at the Royal Museum, Edinburgh (?? Trustees of the National Museums of Scotland)
It is exactly 10 years since the Finn Dorset lamb was born at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh.
She was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell - making her a genetic replica of a six-year-old ewe.
The "copying" of farm animals in the UK has now ceased because of cut-backs in agricultural research.
Professor Wilmut says the UK has once again failed to capitalise on a technology it pioneered.
He told BBC News: "I think that it is very difficult for a small country like this to develop fully something which does have great international value, because once that's recognised the science will move elsewhere.
"And in a sense, that's a compliment to the science: the technology was very important and is now being exploited commercially in Japan and the United States, all sorts of different countries."
Dolly was produced through a technique known as somatic cell nuclear transfer.
There are a number of variations, but essentially it requires the genetic material from a donor cell to be placed inside an egg that has been emptied of its own DNA. The new entity is coaxed in the lab to start developing as an embryo, which is then placed in a surrogate mother and brought to term.
It is an inefficient process which requires large numbers of experiments to produce one live, healthy birth. Nevertheless, the first sheep clone was rapidly followed by other mammals, including mice, rats, cattle, pigs, goats, horses, rabbits, and even cats and dogs.
The technology was originally intended to be used for making copies of farm animals that had been genetically engineered to produce pharmaceutically useful proteins in their milk. This practice, known as "pharming", is now being pursued vigorously overseas.
So, too, is the simple copying of livestock of known high yield.
Wilmut himself is using the technology to study the cell behaviour of humans with motor neurone disease. He hopes that by understanding what goes wrong in these patients, it may be possible to develop therapies in the future.
"If you produce an embryo which is, if you like, genetically identical to the person who has the disease, such as motor neurone disease, then that embryo and the cells you derive from it will have the characteristics of the person who has the illness," he explained.
"In that particular case, you could produce nerve cells that are equivalent to the person at the time when the symptoms first began to appear. You can't get those cells in any other way at the present time."
The application of cloning technology to human biology in the past 10 years has been hugely controversial - although neither the early fears of cloned babies nor the hopes of "miraculous" cures have been realised.
"We've certainly gained some knowledge because cloning is such an inefficient technique," reflected Dr Susan Meyer, of the research and campaign group GeneWatch UK.
"It goes wrong so often, we've gained a lot of knowledge about how cells differentiate and how organisms grow but we haven't reached these expectations which were generated - the hype and the promise about personalised treatments.
"I think it is time to reflect a bit about whether we aren't getting too carried away."
Dolly died in 2003. She was put down after contracting a common lung disease. Her stuffed remains are on show at Edinburgh's Royal Museum.
"When we do taxidermy, we like to capture the character of an animal, and we're also keen to show particular behaviours," Andrew Kitchener, from the National Museums of Scotland, told the Archive Hour on BBC Radio 4.
"Dolly is displayed standing on all fours on a plinth, which is covered in straw and a few sheep droppings. Her head is turned slightly to the left, and she's looking adoringly at her inquiring audience."