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Cloning Scientist Dies

Sir Ian Wilmut, the British scientist behind the cloning program that produced Dolly the Sheep in 1996, died Sunday from Parkinson's disease, the University of Edinburgh announced yesterday. He was 79.

Dolly—who was named after Dolly Parton—was the first mammal cloned using an adult cell, rather than an embryonic cell, a feat previously believed to be impossible. The process, known as somatic cell nuclear transfer, produces an exact genetic clone by removing the DNA from an egg and replacing it with frozen genetic material from an adult sheep cell, which is then transferred to a surrogate. The original project's primary goal was to develop genetically engineered sheep capable of producing therapeutic proteins.

The announcement of Dolly's cloning in February 1997 sparked worldwide debate over the ethics of the procedure and whether it would be used to clone humans. Over 40 countries subsequently outlawed human cloning, while further developments in gene therapy have rendered Wilmut's process obsolete in medical research. Watch an overview of Dolly here.

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