British scientist Ian Wilmut, whose research was fundamental to the creation of the cloned sheep Dolly, has died at the age of 79, the University of Edinburgh reported on Monday (11).
His death on Sunday (10), years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, was announced by the University of Edinburgh, where he worked.
Wilmut, along with Keith Campbell of Scotland’s Animal Sciences Research Institute, generated headlines and heated ethical debates in 1996 when they created Dolly.
“He led efforts to develop cloning, or nuclear transfer, techniques that could be used to create genetically modified sheep. It was these efforts that led to the births of Megan and Morag in 1995 and Dolly in 1996,” the university said in a statement .
Dolly, named after country singer Dolly Parton, was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, using a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT).
This process involved collecting a sheep egg, removing its DNA, and replacing it with DNA from a frozen udder cell of a sheep that had died years earlier. The egg was then electrocuted so that it would grow into a fertilized embryo. No sperm were involved.
Dolly’s creation sparked fears of human reproductive cloning, that is, the production of genetic copies of living or dead people, but leading scientists dismissed this possibility as too dangerous.
Wilmut, who was born near Stratford-upon-Avon, attended the University of Nottingham, initially to study agriculture, before switching to animal science.
He moved to the University of Edinburgh in 2005, received a knighthood in 2008 and retired from the university in 2012.