Dolly the sheep: 15 years after her death, cloning still has the power to shock

Fifteen years have passed since Dolly the sheep was euthanised after developing a lung disease and severe arthritis. 

Dolly had lived a life in the spotlight. She was revealed to the world in 1996 as the first mammal ever to be cloned from another individual’s body cell. 

In Dolly’s case, that was a single mammary gland cell from an adult sheep. According to Dr Ian Wilmut, the scientist who led the cloning research team, the sheep earned her name because they “couldn’t think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton’s”.

Dolly’s death, like her life, was controversial. Normally sheep live for around 10 years, but Dolly had only managed six. This raised questions about the long-term health of clones, and added fuel to the fire of those who considered cloning to be unethical.

Upon the initial announcement of Dolly’s birth, the press went into overdrive describing the “furious debate” in the scientific community the discovery had ignited. Many suggested it meant human cloning was inevitable.

At the time, a Princeton University biologist, Dr Lee Silver, told The New York Times it was “unbelievable”.

“It basically means that there are no limits. It means all of science fiction is true. They said it could never be done and now here it is, done before the year 2000,” he said.

Yet in many ways, since Dolly’s birth and subsequent death, cloning has become normalised.

Meet Zhongzhong and Huahua, the first cloned monkeys in the world

In recent years, champion horses have been replicated in a bid to – in the words of US cloning company ViaGen – “allow breeders to better leverage their most exceptional animals”. 

Beloved cats and dogs have been cloned by owners who cannot bear to let go of their favourite pets, while “cloning factories” in China are being used to produce the best livestock in large quantities.

Despite all this, when the cloned monkeys Zhong Zhong and Hua Hua were revealed to the…

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