Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cloned Sheep Is Just the Beginning for Institute

MIDLOTHIAN, Scotland -- Dolly the sheep, history's first cloned adult mammal, takes after her mom and grazes in pampered comfort on a research farm here.

Dolly's sudden fame is gratifying, but hardly too surprising, to the researchers who have brought the frontiers of science to the green Scottish farmland. Viewed from the cutting-edge Roslin Institute where Dolly was conceived, she is more beginning than end, another giant step toward the long sought-for goal of improving the lot of farmers, consumers, the sick, and animals themselves.

As the next century dawns, Dolly's barnyard friends could include leaner chickens with hardier eggs and stronger legs, sheep and cows whose milk beats human diseases, and pigs whose hearts and kidneys can be transplanted into humans.

Ian Wilmut, 52, the embryologist who was Dolly's laboratory father, moved through the media-caused chaos at the institute here Monday with aplomb, switching between a starched white lab coat and a neat blue blazer to suit the caprice of the many television producers.

Wilmut talked patiently about the difficult mechanics of cloning Dolly by fusing a mammary gland cell from one adult ewe with the unfertilized egg of another ewe, which became the surrogate mother.

He talked about the potential human medical benefits of his research, which he sees as considerable, and its ethical implications -- nothing immediate, but it needs watching.

He told beseeching interviewers about his wife and their three grown children, of his enjoyment of the fresh air and tranquillity he finds walking the Scottish hills.

He seemed nonplussed when a reporter intercepted him in the institute lobby under a wall-sized collage of chickens to inquire why he had chosen to work here. He is after all, an Englishman who had studied at Nottingham and Cambridge. Why rural Scotland, where he came more than 25 years ago when what would become Roslin was still called the Animal Breeding Research Center?

"I wanted to do both applied and research work. I live in the border hills, Edinburgh is 20 miles away. It's perfect. Besides,'' he said with a smile, "the science here is as good as anywhere.''

All that, plus a salary of around $55,000 per year, by one canny estimate. Little wonder then that Roslin is a magnet for some of the best livestock research scientists in Britain -- and abroad. In the third year of its current incarnation, after five administrative shuffles in the past two decades, Roslin is an independent, government-supported institute associated with Edinburgh University. Its predecessor was founded by the British government in 1947 to improve British livestock through science and reduce wartime reliance on imported foodstuffs.

Wilmut and his team, whose work is to be published Thursday in the journal Nature, pioneered the process of growing an animal identical to its mother from scratch. But the institute has long experience in genetically engineering farm animals. "Transgenic animals require teamwork between a molecular biologist and an embryologist, great surgical skill, available farmland and skilled husbandry. We have them all,'' Griffin said.

"This is a world center for excellence. People are attracted here by the high quality of life and exciting science,'' said Ron James, general manager of PPL Therapeutics, the biotech company that shares the institute's campus-like setting about half an hour from Edinburgh.