Wilmut and his team had known from their earlier work
that cloning adult cells would happen one day, but when
Dolly arrived they couldn't have been prepared for the
worlds interest. In 1997 Wilmut spoke to The Scotsman
newspaper about the media attention afforded to Dolly,
'We knew there would be a lot of scientific and commercial
interest, but we didn't expect the enormous general
interest. I think that came because people were frightened
by cloning and didn't really understand what it is and
the benefits it can provide.'
And Benefits Of The Research
applications and potential benefits of the technology
are varied. The initial function of the research was
a form of cell therapy. As outlined with Tracy, the
addition of a gene can cause the sheep to produce a
special sort of milk, which can be useful in the treatment
of humans. Currently many of the hormones, enzymes and
proteins used in the treatment of human disease are
derived from blood donations. It is not possible to
create complex proteins in a laboratory environment.
By introducing them into animals, vast quantities could
become readily available and whilst breeding this race
could occur naturally, the process of cloning animals
would be much quicker and more efficient in controlling
and meeting the demand. Adding a gene is one thing,
but getting it expressed in the milk is another. Wilmut
'There are two parts to the gene,one says that we
want this protein, the other are the regulatory elements
that say that this gene should function in the mammary
gland. By using a standard molecular biological cookery
to put them together you know that if you can get them
into a cell that they will only work in the place that
you are expecting.'
People were frightened by cloning and didn't
really understand what it is and the benefits
it can provide'
all sounds very simple and this is where the public's
initial fears began. If you could produce clones of animals,
would it ever be possible to clone humans? Wilmut comments,
don't have any doubt that if we wished to be able to
do it, one day we would be able to in any species. We
have no real knowledge of whether the human would work
or wouldn't, but bearing in mind the work with primates,
we can assume that there could be a lot of technological
challenges in making it… it is a profoundly challenging
thing that we do and my guess is that the problems with
cloning in different species is that there is something
different about the early environmental development
in these species that we need to understand.'
has always been clear about his ethical beliefs and
has publicly voiced his approval of 'therapeutic
cloning', whilst strongly opposing anyone attempting
to clone a human, claiming that they are 'very naïve'.
He allays any fears that cloning would produce identical
humans and explains that unlike identical twins, clones
are derived from different eggs, developed in different
uterus and most likely have different mothers. However,
his condemnation of human cloning lies in both the process
and the overall practical benefits. 'I don't like
the idea of copying a person' he explains, 'because
I think that each child should be wanted as an individual.'
There are also practical considerations,
'we are one of the labs who are trying to clone a
pig, with the aim that one day pigs will provide organs
for transplantation into human patients - there is a
real biological need there. In the process we have probably
worked with over four or five thousand embryos without
any success. Just where exactly would you get this many
human embryos? It is obscene to even think about doing
that to people.'
addition to the ethical debate, further consideration
has been given to the control of cloning and the products
produced. As with any new medicine there are stringent
legal and testing procedures which the genetic materials
must go through before they can enter the market. With
the news that the Roslin Institute has recently been
taken over by the American corporation Geron, the debate
surrounding the patenting of genes and the control of
medical technologies has been fuelled. How could commercial
intervention effect the work of scientists such as Wilmut?
are pros and cons to the situation. Big companies can
invest more money and speed processes up, but the disadvantage
is that there is probably a greater secrecy involved
in the work.'
Dolly An Atom Bomb?
lessons have been learnt by past situations involving
science and secrecy. Nobel Peace Prize winner Joseph
Rotblat said of Dolly's creation that 'it was as
important as the building of the atomic bomb.' When
some of the nuclear physicists involved in the atom
bomb learnt of its devastation they had regrets, does
Wilmut ever have concerns about the effects of opening
this genetic can of worms?
'You have to put the work in context. It is not as
threatening to individuals as the atom bomb. Overall
I expect the balance to be massively in favour of the
potential uses of the cloning procedure.'
the meantime we can only hope that there is truth in