Thursday, 7 July 2016

Dolly was an icon – but of what?

By Ann Bruce

Image Credit: David Cheskin
When Dolly’s existence, and more particularly, her heritage became public knowledge, the world’s media and soon its politicians too, became mesmerised and shocked by the prospect of cloning humans. You cannot change the laws of physics, but it just looked like the laws of biology had been broken.

I first met Dolly when taking some journalists around to see her at Roslin Institute. If normally only a shepherd can tell one sheep from another, then Dolly was an exception to the rule, as she quickly made herself known and came over to claim the attention she was used to. She wasn’t just a sheep like any other. Dolly truly did re-write the laws of biology, although as is so often the case in science, there were a lot of giants on whose shoulders the scientists working on Dolly were standing.

While cloning as a technique hasn’t been widely adopted in agricultural practice and the original research purpose of ‘team Dolly’ of making genetically modified animals has been mostly overtaken by newer techniques, Dolly has brought in a new understanding of biology. The near contemporaneous discovery of human embryonic stem cells, and its later developments, have taken this biological understanding in new directions, some emergent and some of them yet to be discovered.
Dolly still stands as an icon. Perhaps for some as irresponsible science, for others as a symbol of UK or Scottish scientific excellence, and or yet others, the start of something new and hope for the future. There is room for more than one perspective.

If you'd like a learn more about Dolly the Sheep, be sure to read Dmitriy Myelnikov's post in The Guardian: Dolly the celebrity sheep: a short biography

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