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Sir Ian Wilmut: Scientist who led team which cloned Dolly the sheep dies

Sir Ian Wilmut, the man who led the team behind the famous cloned sheep Dolly, has died.

Described as a “titan of the scientific world”, he was 79.

Announcing Sir Ian’s death, Professor Sir Peter Mathieson, the vice chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Sir Ian Wilmut.

“He was a titan of the scientific world, leading the Roslin Institute team who cloned Dolly the sheep – the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell – which transformed scientific thinking at the time.

“This breakthrough continues to fuel many of the advances that have been made in the field of regenerative medicine that we see today.

“Our thoughts are with Ian’s family at this time.”

Professor Sir Ian Wilmut was part of a team at The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh which successfully cloned Dolly the sheep in 1996.

She was announced to the world amid much media frenzy on 22 February 1997, and was part of a series of experiments at The Roslin Institute that were trying to develop a better method for producing genetically modified livestock.

Dolly was cloned from a cell taken from the mammary gland of a six-year-old Finn Dorset sheep and an egg cell taken from a Scottish Blackface sheep.

Her white face was one of the first signs that she was a clone – because if she had been genetically related to her birth mother, she would have been born with a black face.

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Dolly’s DNA came from a mammary gland cell, so she was named after the country singer Dolly Parton.

She lived a normal life at the institute before her death in 2003 at the age of six.

 Sir Ian Wilmut with his knighthood after it was presented to him by Queen Elizabeth II at the Palace of Holyrood House
Image:
Sir Ian Wilmut with his knighthood after it was presented to him by Queen Elizabeth II at the Palace of Holyroodhouse

Sir Ian said he hoped cloning would mean no species became extinct, but Dolly’s creation also paved the way for potential stem cell treatments to tackle degenerative diseases.

He retired from the University of Edinburgh in 2012 and revealed a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease six years later.

In a 2018 interview with the BBC, Sir Ian said: “There was a sense of clarity, well at least now we know and we can start doing things about it.

“As well as obviously the disappointment that it will possibly shorten my life slightly, and more particularly it will alter the quality of life.”

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Prof Bruce Whitelaw FRSB, director of The Roslin Institute which oversaw the breakthrough, said “science has lost a household name”.

“Ian led the research team that produced the first cloned mammal in Dolly,” he said.

“This animal has had such a positive impact on how society engages with science, and how scientists engage with society. His legacy drives so many exciting applications emerging from animal and human biology research.”

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