25 Years After Sheep Cloning Dolly: What Happened To Anxiety?

Updated 02/22/2022 at 10:47

  • 25 years ago, the news of the birth of Dolly the Cloned Sheep shocked the world of science and sparked a huge debate.
  • It was a breakthrough in research that sparked fantasies, hopes and fears.
  • But many fears have not materialized to this day.

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Astonishment, disbelief, and sometimes even terror: When the news of the first successful cloning of an adult mammal in the form of Dolly the sheep made headlines around the world on February 22, 1997, there was a violent response.

The breakthrough fueled fantasies, hopes and fears – many of them turned out to be unfounded. On the cover of “Spiegel,” Adolf Hitler’s clones, Albert Einstein and Claudia Schiffer stepped into the title “The Fall of Man.” Dolly peeked out from behind him.

The well-known German immunologist and geneticist Klaus Rajewsky believed that the sensation was the result of a laboratory error. “I still don’t believe an embryo can be cloned from cells in the body,” he told a conference three weeks after the breakthrough was revealed. But he was wrong.

25 years later, the waves Dolly caused smoothed out


Schematic diagram of the Schaaf Dolly cloning process. (Editor: C. Wiemann; Graphics: A. Brühl)

© dpa infografika GmbH

25 years later the situation calmed down. The Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh, where Dolly was originally created, are no longer clones. Nonetheless, institute director Bruce Whitelaw is grateful for Dolly’s interest in science. “He brought biology to breakfast and dinner tables, bus rides and everywhere. This increase in public interest and awareness is perhaps one of Dolly’s greatest legacies, “the scientist said in an interview with a German news agency.

The scientific value of Dolly’s work, contrary to what headlines would suggest a quarter of a century ago, was not to create a genetically identical copy of an individual. Probably more important was the evidence that body cells that already perform a specific function in the body can be transformed back into so-called stem cells whose function has not yet been established.

Dolly was created from a cell removed from the udder of a six-year-old sheep. “The idea that you can reprogram a cell has been one of the driving forces behind all stem cell research since Dolly,” says Whitelaw. Until then, the ability to develop in any way desired was known only from embryonic cells.

human cloning? Fortunately, still a problem

Fears that human cloning could not be stopped turned out to be false. But Whitelaw insists that the debate was important in setting the standards of science.

Human clones have yet to be created. Andrew Kitchener of the National Museum in Edinburgh, where the stuffed doll is now on display, doesn’t think it’s likely either. It simply lacks practical application. In addition, human cloning is prohibited worldwide for ethical reasons. “I just can’t imagine any circumstances under which this would change,” he says in an interview with DPA.

Cloning currently takes place mainly in the commercial sector. It concerns, among other things, the reproduction of farm animals with particularly desirable traits and traits, e.g. in breeding racing horses or polos. Whitelaw compares this to the superstitious habit of a hockey player who believes that the only way to be successful is to use the same stick over and over again. Some people have a cloned beloved pet. There are offers on the Internet on dog clones for US $ 50,000 (the equivalent of approximately € 44,000).

Gene editing is more promising than cloning

The Crispr / Cas method, also known as gene scissors, with which the genome of cells can be precisely modified, holds more promise for industry and science than the cloning of a single individual. Scientists at the Roslin Institute are now using this technique to develop genetically engineered pigs that are resistant to diseases such as PRRS (Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome), a disease that affects the respiratory system and reproductive organs of animals. And the method also promises hope for people in the fight against disease. For example, work is underway on gene therapies for people with HIV / AIDS or some forms of cancer.

It went quiet around Dolly in her case at the National Museum in Edinburgh. At best, her name causes an insult, which is an allusion to the udder cell from which she arose. Apparently someone thought it was funny to pair him with country singer Dolly Parton, who is known for her big breasts. The association has since been criticized as sexist. Curator Andrew Kitchener explains: “The name has outgrown its roots,” he says.
© dpa

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