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Cloning: Dolly the sheep changes the world

Cloning has leapt from science fiction to science fact. Once merely the realm of imagination (a duplicate Elvis, a rink full of Gretzkys, or an army of Hitlers), the science of cloning, for medical advance or for reproduction, has raced ahead of public policy and ethical debate. From cloned cows to UFO cults, for better or for worse, Canada finds itself in the centre of the clone age.

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The world is stunned by today's announcement that a sheep has been cloned. Everyone thought cloning a mammal would be too difficult for today's science, yet here she is: Dolly, a seven-month-old lamb, alive and bleating at Scotland's Roslin Institute. Dolly is suddenly a household name and the subject of fierce scientific and ethical debate. Her creation proves that mammals can be easily cloned, and sends governments scurrying to introduce legislation on human cloning.

In 1997, Canada has no cloning laws. A proposed bill, C-47, would govern genetic and reproductive technologies including cloning, but it's only a proposal. Dolly is a reality. She's the big story on both The National and The Magazine tonight. In this excerpt from both shows, scientists, including Dolly's creator Dr. Ian Wilmut, defend the experiment, while others, like Canada's Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies chair Dr. Patricia Baird, say the sheep serves as a warning bell.
. Dolly was created by inserting the nucleus of a mammary (breast) cell from the udder of one sheep into an emptied egg cell from another sheep. Her name is a tribute to buxom entertainer Dolly Parton.
. Dolly (the sheep) had no real father or mother. Her genetic information came entirely from one female sheep via the inserted nucleus -- none came from the surrogate mother that gave birth to Dolly, and there was no ram involved at all.

. The major breakthrough with Dolly was the realization that cell differentiation -- when embryonic cells change to become nerve cells, liver cells, etc. -- is not irreversible. Scientists previously believed that once cells had differentiated, they were fixed in their roles. The Roslin scientists were able to create an entire lamb (and not just more mammary cells) from a mammary cell.
. Dolly was cloned after 276 unsuccessful attempts. The event was named the 1997 Science Breakthrough of the Year.

. The Roslin Institute is an animal research and biotechnology firm located near Edinburgh, Scotland. Dr. Ian Wilmut and his team worked with nuclear transfer technology for ten years before they created Dolly.
. Soon after the cloning of Dolly, scientists successfully cloned mice, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. Subsequent attempts at cloning rabbits, rats, monkeys, cats and dogs usually failed.
. In 1997 Ian Wilmut appeared at a Toronto conference and said this technology should not be applied to humans.

. Nuclear transfer technology makes it easier for scientists to introduce genetic changes by adding or deleting specific genes. Combining genes from different animals, called "transgenics," could lead to sheep and cattle that would secrete disease-fighting human proteins in their milk, or genetically modified pigs that might be used as organ donors for humans (xenotransplantation.)

. In theory, the nucleus of any cell could be inserted into an egg, since every cell nucleus carries all the genetic information for the entire organism. This has led to wild speculation about creating a human clone from a wart from Elvis Presley, or skin cells from King Tutankhamun's sarcophagus or the shroud of Turin. But, since nuclear transfer requires an intact nucleus with functioning chromosomes, such scenarios are far-fetched.
Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Feb. 24, 1997
Guest(s): Patricia Baird, Bernard Dickens, Reuben Mapletoft, Richard Nicholson, Jeremy Rifkin, Ian Wilmut
Host: Laurie Brown, Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Brenda Craig
Duration: 19:26

Last updated: September 20, 2013

Page consulted on September 10, 2014

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