Do you remember where you were when scientists in Scotland announced that they’d cloned a sheep? It happened today, in 1997. The poster girl who triggered our collective identity crises — and turned science fiction into science fact — was named Dolly. Find out how they did it and what else they’ve cloned.
It was only a matter of time, of course (three years), before they’d clone Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movies. The 6th Day is but one of many sci-fi stories about the possibilities and nefarious consequences of cloning. Writers and moviemakers have also cloned Hitler (The Boys from Brazil) Jango Fett (Attack of the Clones), Rico and Dredd (Judge Dredd), the wealthy (The Island), and whole populaces (Brave New World). Not to mention the seminal statement about the application of cloning, the Michael Keaton film Multiplicity.
So how’d the scientists at the Roslin Institute make Dolly? With the help of three sheep. The first mother, the Finn-Dorset who Dolly would become a clone of, provided the cell nucleus (with DNA). The second, a Scottish Blackface (who would not normally be able to produce a white-faced lamb), provided the unfertilized egg whose nucleus was removed and replaced with Dolly’s. They added some electricity, à la Frankenstein, just for effect — and to stimulate the cellular divide to turn it into a blastocyst. The third sheep was the surrogate mom who actually carried the developing embryo to term.
Bam, instant Dolly. What could be easier?
No fathers were needed in all this, except for the honorary “dad” scientists, who unsurprisingly named their little ruminant baby after another Dolly known for her mammary glands. Geez, guys. You know, not all men would have gone that route. I’m just saying.
Dolly was born in 1996, but the world didn’t know about her until exactly 16 years ago today. She lived a happy and widely publicized life and remains certainly the most famous sheep ever. Speaking of remains, they’re on display in National Museums Scotland.
Dolly was the first mammal cloned from a somatic cell, but hardly the first animal and certainly not the last. Wolves, dogs, buffalo, cats, rats, have all been in the queue with varying levels of success, and someone out there’s still trying to clone the mammoth. The implications of human cloning, as you can imagine, is much more controversial, which is why we’re sticking with Schwarzenegger and Keaton for now.