The Art of Cloning

‘The first step in science is to frame a good question, and the next step is to test it.’ Ian Wilmut, Scientist

‘But although the story is complicated it is biology, and biology is not physics: it is not weird – it does not ask you to believe that time passes at different rates in different circumstances… So although biology can be complicted there is nothing in it that anyone who picks up this book cannot understand; and we think the research is worth understanding both for the cultural reason – that science is interesting – and for the practical reason – that the technology that emerges from the science affects all of us, in a hundred different ways…Cloning research has sometimes been described as if it were simply an exercise in commerce – an attempt to multiply particularly valuable livestock. But it has been driven at least as much by the desire to address fundamental questions of biology, which the technology is uniquely equipped to do. Even in this harsh, modern commercial world, this remains a vital subtext of our own research.’ Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell, Colin Tudge, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

‘To clone a sheep, the nucleus from the adult cell is first fused with the enucleated egg often by using an electrical ‘shock’ and then, in the environment of the egg, the nucleus is able to code for the development of all the cell types of a sheep’s body.’ Genewatch, 2006

‘But we have a further conceptual leap beyond that of mere nuclear transfer – and that is to multiply the donor cells in culture before transferring them (or their nuclei) into enucleated oocytes. Then… we have leapt even further, and found ways of restoring totipotency to cell lines that once would have seemed to be differentiated beyond recall. These two steps distinguish our work from all that has gone before: multiplying the cells in culture before transferring their nuclei to make new embryos; and creating new embryos from cells that are already differentiated, by reprogramming their genomes. But this… is making cloning sound easy. To apprecaite what has really been involved we should begin the story of animal cloning from its beginning. That was way back in the 19th century. Big ideas in science take a very long time to unfold.’ Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell, Colin Tudge, So what exactly is a clone?, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Let us borrow the discovered wand of life

Let us borrow the discovered wand of life,

passing over settled cells, to the dreaming

heart; so sweetly re-instate memory,

back to infant states when anything

was possible in their plastic creature -

let us hypnotise with clever chemicals,

regress them to the original, magical states -

let us alter script; making anything possible.


In the time of top hats, bustles, Dickens;

cholera, Queen Victoria, chimney boys -

black carriages, cholera, poverty, mourning,

the big idea of Dolly the sheep began - hear

her faint baaaaa in the laboratories - echoing

round the heads of certain scientists; her wool

in those zillion jumpers, her notion in fields,

where all sheep look alike - might as well be.

‘Gardeners often propogate plants simply by breaking off twigs and sticking them in the ground (or, at least this is the essence of it). All the ‘varieties’ of fruit that grow on bushes and trees – apples, grapes, raspoberries – are in fact clones, multiplied by stem cuttings. Many other plants are multiplied from pieces of root. The fact that a cutting will often grow into a whole plant implies that some art least of its cells are totipotent, or at least highly pluripotent. If a piece of stem is stuck in the ground, then some of the cells differentiate to produce a new stem, which in turn produces leaves, and flowers, and then seeds – all the multifarious cells of which the plant is composed. Some animals have a comparable talent, and thus an entire new individual may be generated from a (large) fragement of starfish. In general, though, plants seem more inclined to retain totipotent cells throughout their lives than animals do. You obviously cannot regenerate an entire human being from an ear or a piece of leg, except in Greek mythology.’ Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, So what exactly is a clone?, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

The starfish could not live without being a star

The starfish could not live without being a star -

his arms and legs are radials, white rays in water;

he is metaphor and symbol, star and fish as one,

shining under the sea, fallen from the heavens -

his molecules arrange the star, even dead on sand;

he remains a star skeketon - like a hand dettached

from life. In his desire to be, remain star-shaped,

he will grow from agony, injury, a new star body;

regenerating out of nothing, that darkness -

remembering the ways of first being a star.

Gardeners feel god-like

Gardeners feel god-like (but in a good way,

not green-fingered freaks - planning Green

Frankensteins, botanical world domination),

cutting and pruning to make more fruitful -

propagating, cloning – peas not as exciting

as weird sheep, but connected to that feeling

of creating; magic under the skin of things -

simple equation that would seem impossible

if it were not true – if I poke this small hole,

bury these miniscule, brittle, dry brown beads 

in earth, cover, leave - hey presto, hallelujah!

roses or oaks, peas or carrots, will later appear,

only water, light required; all free of charge!

Feeling so god-like is not to believe you are

some minor god, but to understand meaning;

to be made in the image of God, share

the surging urge of creativity - and joy

at its happening when the small yellow

chrysanthemum sun bursts forth in summer,

a new apple is picked from the ancient tree,

still sweet, fresh - exuding an ancient script.

They said the mammalian cloners of Dolly

the Sheep were being god-like, trespassing;

stepping on the toes of the divine - sacred -

but were they not amazed, full of wonder,

venerating this exercised principle - only

god-like in the humble sense, as gardeners?

‘Thus if we look at the broad sweep of nature, we find that asexual reproduction is extremely common – probably as common as sexual reproduction – and that reproduction without sex usually, though not invariably, means cloning. Cloning happens to be unusual among vertebrates, however, and is extremely unusual among mammals – the class of creatures that includes human beings…These then, are the broad facts: cloning is a very natural thing (meaning that it occurs thoughout nature) but it is not, except in rare instances, a mammalian thing. These background ideas do not bear directly on the issue of whether the artificial cloning of animals is right or wrong, but they do perhaps suggest that cloning is not quite so outlandish as sometimes presented. It’s just that mammals usually don’t do it. Mammals have gone down a different evolutionary route.’ So what exactly is a clone?, Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

‘I became the first scientist to freeze a calf embryo successfully, thaw it again, and transfer it to a surrogate mother – who went on to give birth to the world’s first ‘frozen calf’, a red-and-white Hereford-Fresian cross whom I called ‘Frostie’.’ Ian Wilmut, Scientist, who cloned Dolly the sheep

Frostie the Frozen Calf

Gather round children…we’re going to read the story

of little ‘Frostie the Frozen Calf’, whose development

was arrested; then she was put in the freezer - Aaawww,

altogether now, ‘Poor Frostie’; frozen solid to the heart,

if she’d had a heart by then, I mean. Sleeping in the freezer,

all cosy, I mean, frozen, little Frostie slept on like a princess

awaiting a prince, deep inside the Castle of Near Impossibility -

but hark, children, what’s this? a giant coming to rescue Frostie!

She’s not an orphan any more – a new mother has been found;

it’s time to stick her in the microwave I think - no? Apparently

that’s not how she was thawed - but never mind children,

you get the idea - Frostie was defrosted! Allowed to thaw,

lucky little Frostie, who might have stayed a frozen embryo -

though her scientist uncle didn’t change her name to ‘Toasty’

or anything like that. So anyway, little Frostie grew and grew

and eventually was born - just like you or me – a fine, healthy

little calf she was, and seemingly none the worse

for her time in the freezer - as you or I might be -

red and white as a candy-stick, tottering on floppy legs.

And do you know, from that day to this - nobody knew

the story of Frostie, beyond a few other uncles - not you

or me; and it was her Aunty Dolly who’d get all the fame.

So the next time you’re eating your breakfast cereal - just

pause for moment, spoon in hand, remember little Frostie,

and ponder this – that not all miracles make you famous;

and each and every one of you, like Frostie, is a miracle.

‘We should ask what cloning is and what it is not. The details matter. They are at the heart of science and also, in practice, the facts of the case do bear upon ethical decisions and theological attitudes. The word ‘clone’ has many connotations, and is used to describe several different (or at least clearly distinguishable) biological entities… for example… Dolly is not an absolute, hundred per cent replica of the old ewe who provided her first cell (who we might call her clone mother). She is not as similar to her clone mother as two identical twins would be to each other. She is merely a genomic, or a DNA clone….we can see that there is a profound difference between the kinds of clones that are produced by nuclear transfer – like Dolly – and the kinds produced by embryo splitting, as in the natural generation of identical twins.’ Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell, Colin Tudge, The Second Creation, Headline, 2001

Note from the author
exploring the project

    Gene Story
    Romantic Science
    Some Special Genes
        The Art of Cloning
        Hello Dolly
        The World’s First
        Celebrity Sheep
        Human Cloning
        Nature & Nurture
    X & Y

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