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scientists respond to sad news of Professor Sir Ian Wilmut’s death

Roger Highfield, Science Director, Science Museum Group, and coauthor, with Sir Ian Wilmut, of After Dolly: the Promise and Perils of Cloning, said:

“I was so sorry to hear about the death of Ian, who led the big team that cloned Dolly the sheep, marking the first time that the ‘cellular clock’ of an adult cell had been wound back to an embryonic state, with huge implications for genetic modification, stem cell research, embryology and more.

“It is hard to understate the global brouhaha that followed news of Dolly’s birth in July 1996, which leaked out in February 1997. Everyone had a view, with quotes from PM to Pope to president, and headlines about the feat on front pages around the world.

“While American scientists were sceptical that a tight-knit group of hirsute underdogs toiling in an obscure Scottish lab had snatched the cloning prize from lantern-jawed scientists working in a well-funded North American powerhouse of genetics (most of whom thought cloning of adults was impossible), journalists expecting to meet a wild eyed Frankenstein were surprised to be confronted with the genial and softly spoken figure of Ian, in wool sweater, parka and, as one paper put it, “the face of a bank clerk’.

“Ian worked tirelessly to explain the implications to a wider public and make it clear that he was concerned by the psychological impact of cloning humans but, above all else, considered human cloning unethical because, from what he knew, many embryos died following implantation in a surrogate mother, and many of those embryos that survived and developed to term were excessively large, and sometimes died immediately following birth, or were born with defects.”  


Prof Bruce Whitelaw FRSB, Director of the Roslin Institute, said:

“With the sad news today of Ian Wilmut’s passing. Science has lost a household name. Ian led the research team that produce the first cloned mammal in Dolly. This animal has had such a positive impact on how society engages with science, and how scientists engage with society. His legacy drives so many exciting applications emerging from animal and human biology research.”


Prof John Iredale, Pro Vice Chancellor Health at the University of Bristol, said:

“I was very sad to hear of Ian’s death. It was my privilege to work with him during my days in Edinburgh particularly during the establishment of the MRC Centre For Regenerative Medicine. I always found Ian personally helpful and supportive, scientifically brilliant and shrewd and possessed of warmth and great humour.

“His scientific achievements are rightly considered ground breaking-an often misused term. And Dolly, preserved and standing in the science gallery of the National Museum in Edinburgh, where she is seen by literally millions of visitors, is a monument to Ian and his research teams astonishing achievement. Long may she remain there.”


Prof Sir Peter Mathieson, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh, said:

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Sir Ian Wilmut. He was a titan of the scientific world, leading the Roslin Institute team who cloned Dolly the sheep – the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell – which transformed scientific thinking at the time. This breakthrough continues to fuel many of the advances that have been made in the field of regenerative medicine that we see today. 

“Our thoughts are with Ian’s family at this time.”   


Sue Charles, biotech communications specialist, Past Board member, BioIndustry Association said:

“I am saddened by the news that Professor Sir Ian Wilmut has passed away. He pioneered mammalian cell cloning and subsequent developments in regenerative medicine, leading the team at the Roslin Institute that that cloned Dolly the Sheep in the mid-90s. It was an honour and career highlight to work with Ian and the Roslin team to develop the communications campaign to announce Dolly to the world and to manage the global media frenzy in what was undoubtedly one of the most reported scientific breakthroughs of the 20th century.”

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