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World’s first cloned animal
passes into immortality


Dolly, the most famous sheep in the world, has been put down because of lung disease. "We are sorry to report that Dolly the sheep is dead," the Roslin Institute in Scotland announced last week.

Dolly made history when she became the first animal to be cloned from an adult cell. The prestigious journal Science declared the Finn Dorset sheep the scientific breakthrough of 1997.

Her cloning, which paved the way to unprecedented genetic manipulation of farmyard animals, also triggered much soul searching.

Then US President Bill Clinton set up a commission to ask what the implications of the "startling news" were for people.

Prof Richard Gardner, chairman of the Royal Society working group on therapeutic cloning, said: "We must await the results of the post-mortem on Dolly in order to assess whether her relatively premature death was connected with the fact that she was a clone.

"If there is a link, it will provide further evidence of the dangers inherent in reproductive cloning and the irresponsibility of anybody who is trying to extend such work to humans."

Dolly came to enjoy a celebrity lifestyle, albeit one confined to Roslin. As an experimental animal, she was banned from opening fetes or attending agricultural shows.

She was interviewed by the author Fay Weldon, posed with a Japanese couple for wedding photographs and was fleeced in the name of medical research. The sweater produced from her wool is in the Science Museum.

The Roslin said the decision was taken to "euthanase" six-year-old Dolly by injection after an examination showed progressive lung disease.

Dr Harry Griffin said: "Sheep can live to 11 or 12 years of age and lung infections are common in older sheep, particularly those housed inside. A full post-mortem is being conducted and we will report any significant findings."

One of the key unanswered questions about Dolly is her true "genetic" age. Although she was born on July 5 1996, all the cells in her body sprang from a single cell in a six-year-old ewe. Some would argue that her age at death and the age of the ewe would make her 12.

In 1999, researchers found evidence that Dolly might have aged prematurely and two years later she developed arthritis in a hind leg and hip.

Arthritis in sheep is quite common, but it is comparatively unusual for it to be in these joints. Prof Ian Wilmut, who led the team that created Dolly, said the ailment was likely to be linked to the "inefficient" cloning process. Prof Wilmut said the early indications were that Dolly, cloned from a breast cell and named after the singer Dolly Parton, had contracted the disease from other animals in a shared pen.

"There is always a greater risk if you have animals inside that infections will spread, so we had been concerned about this. It's a very slow, progressive illness but we won't know the details until a post mortem examination has been completed."

The institute plans to publish any "significant post mortem results" amid fears that the sheep's death was linked to premature ageing.

"The elbow is the most commonly affected joint," said Tim King, the veterinary surgeon on the project. In all other ways Dolly was in good health and she had produced six healthy lambs.

Dolly is to be stuffed and put on public display after a post mortem examination. She will be put on display with another sheep born at the institute, Morag, one of a set of twins, which was donated after dying of a respiratory problem.

The museum already has a fleece from Dolly, and a spokesman said it was right that a "Scottish sheep should reside in Scotland for posterity".

Scandalous

Alan Colman, a member of the team behind Dolly's birth, said: "It highlights the foolishness of those who want to legalise reproductive cloning. In the case of humans, it would be scandalous to go ahead, given our knowledge about the long-term effects of cloning."

Expert on the ethics of human cloning, Dr Patrick Dixon, said: "A key question is exactly what kind of progressive lung disease she has had and whether that can be related in any way to the cloning technology which produced her."

Professor Richard Gardner, chair of the Royal Society working group on stem cell research and therapeutic cloning, said: "We must await the results of the post-mortem on Dolly in order to assess whether her relatively premature death was in any way connected with the fact that she was a clone.

"If there is a link, it will provide further evidence of the dangers inherent in reproductive cloning and the irresponsibility of anybody who is trying to extend such work to humans."

Life, the national pro-life charity, said the death of Dolly proved that cloning was unnecessary.

Trustee Nuala Scarisbrick said: "I would hope that this wretched thing that has happened would convince the general public that cloning is wrong and should be banned full stop."

The Religious Raelian sect’s associated ‘cloning company’ Clonaid claimed earlier this year to have cloned human babies but, without any evidence, the scientific world remains unconvinced .

l Last year, the long-cherished dream of cloning much-loved family pets came a step closer when it was announced that American scientists succeeded in cloning a domestic cat for the first time. The cloned feline was introduced to the world last week. The two-month-old tortoiseshell kitten, called Cc - short for "carbon copy" - appears to be healthy.

Cats became the sixth mammal - after sheep, cows, mice, goats and pigs - to be cloned with the nuclear transfer technique used to produce Dolly.

But as with all the previously cloned species, the cloning success rate is low. Cc was the only live birth out of 87 cloned embryos implanted into surrogate mothers.

Although Cc, now just over a year old is a genetically identical twin of the donor cat, it is far from a carbon copy. The pattern on cats' coats is only partly determined by genes; it also depends on the environment in the womb as the kitten embryo grows. Cc's colouring is unique. The female kitten was created by Dr Mark Westhusin and colleagues at Texas A&M University in College Station, home of the much-vaunted ‘Missyplicity Project’ which has been trying, for the past six years, to create a cloned dog but without any notable success.