Described as the “world’s most famous sheep”, Dolly certainly put Midlothian on the map as a centre of scientific research.
A team at Roslin Institute, led by the embryologist Professor Sir Ian Wilmut, created the world’s first cloned mammal from a mammary cell.
Dolly’s arrival captured imaginations across the world and 20 years on from the momentus event, Edinburgh University is inviting people to share their memories of Dolly the Sheep.
Members of the public, including scientists involved in Dolly’s creation, are being asked to share their reflections on the world’s most famous sheep. The project aims to record people’s ongoing hopes for what the research might achieve as well as their personal memories of Dolly.
Dolly’s creation,a collaboration between the institute (now part of Edinburgh University) and PPL Therapeutics, turned scientific thinking at the time on its head.
She proved that cells from anywhere in the body could be made to behave like a newly fertilised egg. This was something that scientists had previously thought was impossible to achieve.
The breakthrough paved the way for researchers to develop methods of producing stem cells from adult cells, offering hope of therapies for a wide-range of diseases.
Twenty years later, researchers at Roslin are building on Dolly’s legacy by using the latest gene-editing technologies to alter animals’ DNA. Their aim is to improve the health and welfare of farmed animals.
Sir Ian said: “When Dolly was born we knew that we had achieved something extraordinary – but I don’t think any of us would have predicted the level of public interest in our research, or that people would still be enthralled by Dolly and her legacy 20 years later.”
Colleague Bill Ritchie, an embryologist on the project, added: “When Dolly was born we were excited to see that she had a white face because that meant that the experiment had worked.
“She was cloned from a Finn Dorset which has a white face but both the egg and surrogate mother were Scottish Black-face ewes.”
Fellow embryologist Karen Walker said: “I was at a wedding in the Highlands when Dolly was born and received the news by fax.
“We were supposed to keep the news quiet until the study was published but I couldn’t help myself. We had an extra celebration that night.”
Dolly died, just a few months shy of her seventh birthday, on February 14, 2003. She was suffering from a lung disease and arthritis. There were fears that cloning had caused her to age more quickly.
However, last month a new study has revealed that Dolly’s “siblings” – four sheep cloned from the same ewe as Dolly – had aged normally.
During her anniversary year, Dolly has returned to display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. She is one of 3000 objects being unveiled in ten new galleries devoted to science, technology, decorative art, design and fashion.
In June, Edinburgh University hosted a gathering in Roslin for local residents, the scientists and present-day Roslin Institute colleagues to launch the oral history project which aims to collect and exhibit people’s memories of Dolly.
Anyone can submit their memory of Dolly by visiting http://dolly.roslin.ed.ac.uk/dolly-memories
Celebrations over Dolly’s birth began earlier this year with events at the Edinburgh Science Festival and will continue during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Professor Helen Sang (Roslin Institute), Dr Tilo Kunath (MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine) and Dr Miguel Garcia Sancho Sanchez (Edinburgh University) will debate “Dolly the Sheep: Major Discovery or Minor Distraction?” at The Stand in the Square, St Andrew Square, Edinburgh, on August 25 at 3pm.
Sir Ian Wilmut will be part of “Coming of Age: The Legacy of Dolly at 20” a public lecture and discussion at Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh, on September 1 at 7pm.
Finally, there will be a scientific symposium at Roslin Institute, Easter Bush, Midlothian, on September 2.