News Nostalgia: Let’s Talk About Dolly, The Cloned Sheep

Do you guys remember Dolly? She was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the process of nuclear transfer, and she was a big deal in 1996. In biology, a clone is a cell or an organism that is genetically identical to another cell or organism. “To clone” something refers to the process of creating cloned cells or organisms.

Dolly was created by Ian Wilmut of the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland along with a team of scientists. He used a cell derived from the udder of a six-year-old sheep in the final stage of pregnancy, making the nucleus of the donor cell “quiet” so that it’d stop behaving as an udder cell, and could be reprogrammed to become an embryo. The reason behind this experiment? Wilmut was trying to find ways to produce livestock that carry specific genetic traits.

Researchers in Scotland tried 277 times to create cloned sheep, and they succeeded just this one time. The majority of cloned animals have something wrong with them, many dying in the womb, or soon after birth. Typical defects are malfunctioning lungs, a heart that doesn’t work as it should, or a very weak immune system.

Dolly was originally named “6LL3” before being Dolly – named after Dolly Parton, of course. It was a big story, because her creation disproves the notion that cells from an adult animal are too specialized to generate a new organism. However, not everyone was celebrating – many people were outraged, figuring that the next step would be cloning humans.

In 2001, a group of scientists did have a plan to try and clone humans, which Wilmut was furious over. “To try cloning on humans today would be criminally irresponsible. The problems are far too serious,” he said. In 2007, Wilmut theorized that the nuclear transfer technique may never be sufficiently efficient for use in humans.

Dolly spent her whole life at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, giving birth to six lambs (the first being named Bonnie, who was born in 1998). When Dolly was four, she developed arthritis, which caused her to walk stiffly but was treated with anti-inflammatory medication.

Unfortunately, Dolly passed away in 2003, at the age of six, from a progressive lung disease. Some speculate that a contributing factor to Dolly’s death was that she could have been born with a genetic age of six years, which was the age of the sheep she was cloned from. Scientists said that the disease she caught was very common in sheep, and didn’t necessarily come from the fact that she was cloned.

While other animals have been cloned since, Dolly was definitely the trailblazer. With her success, scientists might be able to save endangered species – and even species that have already been claimed extinct, if they have the right DNA.

What are your opinions on cloning? Do you remember seeing Dolly’s cute face on every magazine back in 1996 and 1997?

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