Dolly

Prologue

Dolly was part of a series of experiments at The Roslin Institute that were trying to develop a better method for producing genetically modified livestock. She was a female domestic sheep, and the first mammal cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the process of nuclear transfer. The research team was lead by Sir Ian Wilmut and Keith Campbell. Because of the nature of the research, the team was made up of many different people, including scientists, embryologists, surgeons, vets and farm staff. Major scientists involved were Karen Walker (embryologist), Bill Ritchie (embryologist), Angela Scott (cell-culture technician) and John Bracken (farm research assistant). The funding for Dolly’s cloning was provided by PPL Therapeutics and the UK’s Ministry of Agriculture.

Dolly was a significant step in cloning. Her birth proved that specialized cells could be used to create an exact copy of the animal they came from. This knowledge changed what scientists thought was possible and opened up a lot of possibilities in biology and medicine, including the development of personalized stem cells.

Chapter 1

It’s 13th Feb., 2003. I lay indoors of Roslin Institute, Edinburgh, Scotland. I turn back the pages of my life and ponder over these six and a half years with my scientist parents, the lab and the media.
It all began on 8th Feb., 1996. My scientist parents Karen Walker and Bill Ritchie say that it was a very bad weather. Unfortunately the oocyte cell line to be used for my cloning purpose was contaminated. Thanks to Angela Scott, cell culture technician who was having mammary epithelial cells. It was like a gamble for the scientists to use mammary cell lines instead of embryonic cell line. Guess this is the reason which took me to the spotlight.

For a long time I used to wonder what exactly cloning is when I finally overheard these scientists talking about it. As said by Dr. Ritchie, the simple way of describing nuclear transfer is that you take an oocyte, an unfertilized egg, and you remove the chromosomes. You then take a complete cell which contains both male and female chromosomes — all of our cells do, apart from the gonads. You take that cell and fuse it to the enucleated egg, activate it — which starts it growing — and transfer it to a surrogate mother. Hopefully, with your fingers crossed, you will get a cloned offspring, a copy of the animal you’ve taken that cell from. My chromosomes were taken from a Finn Dorset breed mother and my cytoplasmic donor mother belonged to Scottish Blackface family. Dr. Walker and Dr. Ritchie carefully did the nuclear transfer required. The journey from cell fusion to the formation of an embryo was quite a dizzy feeling as it was facilitated by electric pulses. I was then transferred into my new home- my surrogate mother, a Scottish Blackface.
Journey from here was quite exciting, for me as well as my scientist parents. They were taken aback by the news of a successful pregnancy which was almost nil in my case. Every day I could feel them sighing by counting days one by one. I used to get disturbed by weird vibrations over my new home in every 15-20 days. They used to take some pictures and observe it closely to check whether I am developing healthy or not. I didn’t know I was so camera friendly since then and there was a lot to go.

After a long period of 150 days, I began feeling I am unfit for my home and need to come out. It was July 5th, 1996, 4:30 of afternoon as they say. Only a few team members were gathered. I opened my eyes for the first time to witness this world. More than me my scientist parents were excited. I got up on my feet pretty quick, just half an hour after my birth showing no signs of complications. Lamb number: 6LL3 was my name, until they thought to name me after the famous country singer Dolly Parton. That was a kick start to my road to fame, wasn’t it?

My birth was kept a top secret until the Nature paper describing the experiments could be published in February 1997. I couldn’t wait to meet the media. There were television trucks everywhere. CBS, NBC, ABC, BBC, all there wanting interviews with the scientists. It was chaos. I don’t think you can ever appreciate the intensity of the media in full flight unless you’ve experienced it yourself. There were too many flashes from every side that I was too confused to focus on one camera. “First successful clone from an adult cell”, they said. Though at that time I couldn’t concentrate on the words of my scientist parents, yet I guess it was a revolutionary step in the field of genetics.

It was a real hectic day for me. I realized being a celebrity sheep is going to take a lot. This was just the beginning of my story. Many moments are yet to come.

To be continued …

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