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Dolly the Sheep pioneer Ian Wilmut dies

Leading animal scientist leaves a rich legacy in the field of regenerative medicine.

Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, whose research was central to the creation of Dolly the Sheep, has died at the age of 79.

Professor Wilmut led a team from the Roslin Institute and PPL Therapeutics whose research led to the birth of Dolly in 1996. The sheep was the first mammal cloned from an adult cell.

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, born to a Scottish Blackface surrogate mother.

Early life

Ian Wilmut was born near Stratford-upon-Avon before the family moved to Yorkshire.

It was at school in Scarborough that he first became interested in biology. He went to the University of Nottingham, initially to study agriculture, later switching to animal science.

His studies continued with a PhD and fellowship at the University of Cambridge, focused on the preservation of semen and embryos by freezing. This work led to the birth of Frostie, the first calf to be born from a frozen embryo.

Pioneering studies

Dr Wilmut then moved to the Animal Breeding Research Organisation (ABRO), near Edinburgh, the predecessor to the Roslin Institute.

He continued to work with reproductive cells and embryos, and contributed to a project to make genetically modified sheep that could produce milk containing proteins used to treat human diseases.

This highlighted that a new, more efficient method of developing sheep with these characteristics was needed.

He led efforts to develop cloning, or nuclear transfer, techniques that could be used to make genetically modified sheep. It was these efforts which led to the births of Megan and Morag in 1995 and Dolly in 1996.

Polly, the first mammal to be both cloned and genetically modified, was born in 1997.

Following the success of the cloning research, Dr Wilmut began to focus on using cloning to make stem cells which could be used in regenerative medicine.

Academic focus

He moved to the University of Edinburgh in 2005, becoming the first Director of the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine the following year.

Professor Wilmut was knighted in 2008 and retired from the University of Edinburgh in 2012.

He later backed an initiative to tackle Parkinson’s disease, after being diagnosed with the condition.

The impact of  [Ian Wilmut’s] work will be felt for generations. He was a hugely respected scientist, colleague, mentor and friend. Our thoughts are with Ian’s family.

Professor Sir Peter MathiesonPrincipal, University of Edinburgh

It is with a sad heart that I learned of Ian’s passing. Ian was such a great ambassador for Roslin. His reach was global. He led, back in the 1980s, the team that produced Dolly - from which so much has come to the Institute, the University of Edinburgh, and indeed to science in general. We have lost one of the best-known science pioneers.

Professor Bruce WhitelawDirector, the Roslin Institute

Professor Ian Wilmut was an immensely respected scientist, colleague, mentor and friend to many of us. The impact of his work will be felt for generations as it opened up the field of regenerative medicine … the science we do here in Edinburgh has the potential to shape all our lives and Ian's life and work is the ultimate example of that. Our thoughts are with his family, friends and colleagues at this sad time.

Professor David ArgyleHead of the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine, University of Edinburgh

Related links

Dolly the Sheep