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Famous Scientists in Genetics: Ian Wilmut

written by: •edited by: Paul Arnold•updated: 5/21/2009

Ian Wilmut used his early interest in agriculture to launch a career that included producing the world's first cloned mammal, Dolly the sheep.

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    Early Life of Ian Wilmut

    Ian Wilmut was born in Hampton Lucey, England, on July 7, 1944. He grew up in Coventry. From the time he was a child, Wilmut had an interest in agriculture, which led him to enroll at the University of Nottingham's agricultural studies program.

    Wilmut was introduced to the science of embryology during summer internship programs. He focused his studies on the field of animal genetic engineering. Wilmut was awarded a doctorate in 1971 from the University of Cambridge.

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    Cloning Animals: From Frosty to Dolly the Sheep

    Ian Wilmut was part of the team responsible for producing a calf from an embryo that had been frozen. The animal was named "Frosty" because of its unique start in life. Frosty was born in 1973, but Wilmut really became front page news when Dolly the Sheep came along, and was announced to the world in February of 1997. Since that time the press has hardly stayed away from him and he has become one of the most famous scientists in genetics.

    Wilmut and his team had successfully created a sheep that was a genetic replica of its mother. The sheep, named Dolly after country singer Dolly Parton, was created with an ovum and a mammary cell from the parent sheep. When the news broke, the public was fascinated and appalled, probably in equal measure, and Dolly's birth gave rise to concerns that scientists were attempting to clone humans. Wilmut has stated that he is opposed to this idea, and so far there isn't any proof that any scientist anywhere in the world has cloned a human. It remains in the realm of science fiction.

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    Who Created Dolly?

    This famous scientist who is synonymous with Dolly the sheep did not carry out the experiments or develop the technology that led to Dolly's birth. He played a supervisory role in her creation. He appeared as lead author on the scientific paper that detailed Dolly's creation, because of a prior agreement with his colleague, Dr Keith Campbell. However, this is not to trivialize his role, as it is consistent with the responsibilities of a principle scientific investigator.

    Ian Wilmut, is now Sir Ian Wilmut as he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in 2008 for his services to science, and for revolutionizing biology through cloning technology.